Japan's top naval officer said Monday a multilateral framework such as the ongoing U.S.-led Rim of the Pacific Exercise is vital for easing tensions with China over territorial claims in the East China Sea.
"It is hard for Japan and China to talk bilaterally but maintaining communication on a multilateral basis will stabilize" the situation, Adm. Katsutoshi Kawano, chief of staff of the Maritime Self-Defense Force, said in a press conference.
Kawano was in Hawaii to take a look at RIMPAC, the biennial multinational naval exercises running through Aug. 1 with more than 20 countries, including Japan, taking part. China has joined the world's largest maritime drills for the first time.
Speaking at the joint news conference, Kawano and U.S. Pacific Fleet commander Adm. Harry Harris welcomed China's participation in the exercises this year.
Kawano said it is "unfortunate" that the MSDF and China's navy have no chance to hold drills together. He declined to comment on his impression of the Chinese navy.
Ties between Tokyo and Beijing are strained as the two countries remain at odds over the sovereignty of the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.
China, which claims the islands and calls them Diaoyu, has become increasingly assertive at sea, frequently sending patrol ships near the uninhabited islets.
Kawano said he believes the MSDF and U.S. Navy will find "new ways of cooperation" in light of the July 1 Cabinet decision to reinterpret the Constitution to enable Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense, which would allow it to defend an ally such as the United States when it comes under armed attack.
He did not make further comment about the exercise of the right since it is a political issue.
Harris praised Japan's new policy on collective self-defense as an extremely important decision.