Defense chiefs from Japan, the United States and South Korea on Saturday highlighted the importance of "peace and stability" in the Taiwan Strait at a time when China has raised regional tensions by putting military pressure on democratically governed Taiwan.

Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and South Korean Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup also condemned North Korea's ballistic missile launches and agreed to conduct joint drills to deal with them, according to a joint statement issued after their meeting in Singapore.

It was the first time for the issue of Taiwan — the self-ruled island viewed by Beijing as part of its own territory that must be reunited by force, if necessary — to be referred to in defense ministerial talks among the three nations, the Japanese Defense Ministry said.