Australia, Japan and US raised alarm over China's "bullying" in Taiwan Strait post US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's visit to the self-governing island in August this year.
US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin held a Trilateral Defence Ministers Meeting (TDMM) With Australian Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles and Japanese Minister of Defence Hamada Yasukazu in Hawaii on Saturday and called out China's aggressive behaviour in the Indo-Pacific region.
"We are deeply concerned by China's increasingly aggressive and bullying behaviour in the Taiwan Strait and elsewhere in the region," Austin told reporters before his meeting with Japanese Defence Minister Hamada and Australia's Marles, read a US Department of Defense press release.
The trio "discussed deepening trilateral defence cooperation" and "committed to taking concrete, practical steps together in order to anchor stability and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region."
The Japanese side's readout said that the defence chiefs had "shared concerns about the situation in the East and South China Seas and reaffirmed that they oppose any unilateral attempts to change the status quo by force or any unilateral actions," reported Nikkei Asia.
During their meeting, they also "reiterated the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait," according to the Japanese side.
Marles said in a Twitter post that the three countries "share a mutual concern about the deteriorating strategic environment in our region and globally."
"Today we reaffirmed our commitment to work together and with our global partners to keep the Indo-Pacific safe and secure for all," he added.
The defence leaders met to review progress on a wide range of concrete initiatives discussed at the last TDMM held in Singapore in June.
During the meeting, the ministers exchanged views on the regional security environment and discussed deepening trilateral defence cooperation on enhanced information sharing, exercises, and science and technology initiatives.
With the second TDMM of 2022 having reaffirmed strategic alignment among the three leaders, the ministers committed to taking concrete, practical steps together in order to anchor stability and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region, read the release.
Saturday's meeting, which Japan's Defence Ministry says was proposed by the American side, comes just three months after defence chiefs from the three countries last met in Singapore in June. The unusually short interval reflects their level of concern over China's growing activity in the Indo-Pacific region, reported Nikkei Asia.
Military analysts say Japan and Australia, given their relative proximity to China, would play an important role in a US response to a potential Taiwan crisis, both in joint operations and rear guard support.
While Washington's European allies have shown a growing readiness to become involved in the Indo-Pacific, they have few if any major military assets stationed in the region, said Nikkei Asia.
Japan and Australia "are our two most like-minded and capable partners in the Indo-Pacific, and we, together, share a profound commitment to upholding the rules-based order in the region, and a free and open Indo-Pacific," a senior US Defence Department official said ahead of Saturday's talks.
At the June meeting, in which Nobuo Kishi participated for Japan, the trio issued a statement calling for more trilateral exercises and cooperation on research and development, among other steps.
Japan and Australia, which are both US allies, regard each other as "quasi-allies." In January, the two countries signed a reciprocal access agreement that paves the way for deploying forces to take part in joint exercises or responses to natural disasters, reported Nikkei Asia.
"Once that is ratified by the Japanese Diet, I think that will unlock tremendous opportunities for trilateral activities and operations," the senior US defence official said.
The Biden administration sees both Australia and Japan as key partners in its attempt to create a multilateral framework of fellow democracies in the Indo-Pacific region.
Australia is part of AUKUS, a partnership with the US and the UK that will supply nuclear-powered submarines and other advanced technology to Canberra.
Australia and Japan both belong to the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or Quad, efforts of which extend beyond security to such areas as dealing with pandemics and climate change. (ANI)