TOKYO: Japan on Wednesday called for stronger security ties with Southeast Asia as Tokyo looks to boost alliances at a time of growing territorial tensions with China.

Vice-minister level representatives from Japan and the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) began a two-day gathering at a Tokyo hotel, with several participating nations embroiled in sovereignty rows with Beijing.

“The Asia-Pacific region has various issues concerning security and defence... including territorial conflicts in the South China Sea,” Vice Defence Minister Akinori Eto told the opening session of the closed-door meeting.

“On top of the growing maturity of our economic cooperation, Japan and Asean need to further strengthen ties in the field of security and defence,” Eto said.

The meeting is the first high-ranking defence dialogue of its kind since hawkish Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe took office late December following a landslide victory in general elections.

“Our country changed governments late last year,” Eto said. “Under the new regime, we want to reinforce cooperation in security and defence with Asean countries and contribute to peace in the region,” he added.

Ahead of the meeting, the Asean participants met Abe late Tuesday and voiced their high expectations from Japan “in dealing with various security issues of the Asia-Pacific region,” the defence ministry said in a statement.

Japan, along with several members of Asean have locked horns with China over separate territorial disputes.

Relations between Beijing and Tokyo have deteriorated badly over the last year as the two sides argued about the sovereignty of Tokyo-controlled islands in the East China Sea.