When Defense Minister Minoru Kihara travels to Hawaii on Thursday for three days of talks with his U.S., Australian and Philippine counterparts, there will be one thing on his mind: how to deepen military and security cooperation to counter China.

“Through this visit, I hope to send a strong message of unity among allies and like-minded countries toward the realization of a rules-based international order and a free and open Indo-Pacific,” Kihara told a news conference Friday.

The gathering comes as Washington continues to bring regional allies and partners closer together in small groupings to build up what it calls “collective capacity.”