The Defense Ministry will create a new post in the Defense Policy Bureau on Wednesday to address issues related to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and Pacific islands.

The new post, at the level of division chief, is aimed at strengthening security cooperation in line with the government’s concept of a “free and open Indo-Pacific.”

The ministry has divided external coordination work between the Japan-U.S. Defense Cooperation Division, which deals with issues related to the United States, the sole ally of Japan, and the International Policy Division, tasked with handling issues of other countries.

But in recent years, joint exercises as well as defense equipment and technology cooperation with ASEAN nations and others have increased sharply, making it urgent for the ministry to work out an organizational structure better prepared for the changes.

The concept of a free and open Indo-Pacific is a key diplomatic strategy of Japan, which lays weight on an open maritime order based on the rules of law.

By deepening relations with related areas in the defense field as well, the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe hopes to counter China, which has been boosting its presence in the East China Sea, the South China Sea and the Pacific, officials said.

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