Japan on Monday recognized former U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen for his contribution to strengthening the bilateral security alliance.

In a ceremony in Washington, Japanese Ambassador to the United States Shinsuke Sugiyama presented the Grand Cordon of the Order of the Rising Sun — the third-highest order bestowed by the government — to Cohen, who served as Pentagon chief from 1997 to 2001 under President Bill Clinton.

Sugiyama praised Cohen for leading the revision of the Japan-U.S. defense cooperation guidelines in 1997, as well as his leadership in bilateral defense ministerial meetings and "two-plus-two" security talks involving the defense and foreign ministers of the two countries.

Cohen underscored the significance of the Japan-U.S. alliance and called Tokyo the "anchor" of Washington's security relations throughout the Asia-Pacific, a region that faces challenges such as China's rising assertiveness and military buildup.

The current chairman and chief executive officer of the Cohen Group, a Washington consulting firm, thanked Japan for hosting U.S. forces with what he described as the "generosity of the Japanese people."

Cohen dismissed the view that maintaining alliances and stationing American troops in Japan and other allies is a burden to the United States.

"It's one of the greatest benefits we have," he said. "We have Japan as our key ally in the Asia-Pacific region, or what we now call the Indo-Pacific region."