- Associated Press - Saturday, June 3, 2017

SINGAPORE (AP) - Glossing over disagreements, the defense chiefs from Japan and France on Saturday welcomed U.S. leadership in the Asia-Pacific to manage the nuclear ambitions of North Korea and maintain regional peace.

Speaking at a security summit in Singapore, Japanese Defense Minister Tomomi Inada applauded America’s presence in the region and its tough stance on North Korea.

“The United States is a longtime Pacific power,” she said. “The ongoing presence of the United States in the Indo-Pacific continues to under-guard the rules-based order of the region. We welcome U.S. policy to strengthen its position.”

Japan is “further deepening cooperation and coordination” with the Trump administration,” Inada added.

“The security threat North Korea poses to the region and beyond has now entered a new stage,” she said. “We must stand shoulder to shoulder to intensify pressure on North Korea.”

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has said that all options are on the table to rid North Korea of its nuclear weapons, leaving open the possibility of pre-emptive military action.

Earlier Saturday, U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis called North Korea’s push to acquire a nuclear-armed missile capable of threatening the United States and other nations a “clear and present danger.”

Mattis addressed defense ministers and experts from 39 countries at the annual Shangri-La Dialogue.

French Minister for Armed Forces Sylvie Goulard noted that North Korea is the only country to have conducted nuclear tests in the 21st century, including two last year alone.

“North Korea’s attitude is feeding tensions in a region where we have major economic interest, and we do not want to see an arms race here,” Goulard said.

Although President Donald Trump’s decision to pull the U.S. out of the Paris climate change agreement has “heavy consequences,” Goulard said that there was “no reason to have doubts” over its regional leadership role.

Continued U.S. leadership in the region ensures “rules-based order” or freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, the defense chiefs said.

China has pitted itself against its smaller neighbors in claiming disputed islands, coral reefs and lagoons in the South China Sea and made “periodic incursions into Japanese territorial waters,” Inada explained.

“In short, the rules-based regional order is under challenge,” she said. “If we are to seek peace and prosperity, we need to summon our reserves. Now is the time to form a scrum to protect the rules-based order.”

The three-day security conference, which ends Sunday, is also expected to focus on Islamic extremism, including the fight against the Islamic State group.

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