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TOKYO – The Australian and Japanese foreign and defense ministers are meeting Thursday to discuss deepening defense cooperation and the growing North Korean nuclear and missile threat.
The North Korea situation makes military cooperation particularly crucial, Japanese Defense Minister Tomomi Inada told Australian counterpart Marise Payne when they met late Wednesday ahead of the talks. They agreed to expand joint exercises and arms-equipment trade.
China and the South China Sea are also likely topics when foreign ministers Fumio Kishida of Japan and Australia's Julie Bishop join the defense ministers. The four ministers are also expected to review President Donald Trump's first three months in office, according to a Japanese foreign ministry official who briefed reporters on customary condition of anonymity.
The Australian ministers' visit come on the heels of U.S. Vice President Mike Pence's trip to Japan and South Korea earlier this week as part of a 10-day Asia tour to reassure allies of America's commitment to the region.
Tension on the Korean Peninsula has risen this month, with the Trump administration stepping up pressure on North Korea and two major anniversary events in North Korea.
Japan, a staunch U.S. ally that hosts about 50,000 American troops on its turf, has in recent years developed military cooperation with other countries, including Australia, France and Britain. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has sought to expand Japan's defense role and capability in the face of North Korea's threat and China's increasing assertive maritime activity in the East and South China Seas.