The Japan Coast Guard plans to establish an organization dedicated to helping Southeast Asian countries improve maritime safety, coast guard officials said, as Tokyo continues to respond to China's growing assertiveness at sea.

The coast guard aims to build stronger ties with counterparts in the region as part of Japan's drive to enshrine the rule of law in dealing with disputes in the South China Sea, where surrounding countries including China have competing territorial claims, they said Saturday.

In addition to disputes with China, the coast guards in Southeast Asia face a pressing need to improve their ability to respond to natural disasters and piracy.

The new organization, to be launched in April with a staff of seven, will organize training and international symposiums on how to maintain rule-based maritime order, the officials said.

In addition providing government patrol boats, the Japan Coast Guard regularly holds joint exercises, training and other exchanges with their Southeast Asian counterparts, such Vietnam.

The new body aims to expand those activities and will start by inviting trainees from Thailand and Myanmar, the officials said.

The coast guard believes its expertise in dealing with Chinese government ships in and near territorial waters around the Japan-administered Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea will be helpful to other nations in responding to China's assertive behavior and illegal fishing in contested waters while avoiding escalation to armed clashes.