Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said his country is prepared to play a more active role in promoting peace in the region.
In a speech to the Shangri-La Dialogue for defense officials and experts in Singapore, Abe stressed that all countries must observe international law.
"Japan will offer its utmost support for the efforts of countries of ASEAN," Abe said, referring to the Association of South East Asian Nations,
as its members "work to ensure the security of the seas and the skies, and thoroughly maintain freedom of navigation and freedom of overflight."
Japan is just one of several nations in the region currently involved in tense maritime territorial disputes with China.
In his speech in Singapore, Abe urged all nations to observe the rule of law and not use force or threats.
U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel also is attending the meeting in Singapore, where he met Friday with his Japanese and Australian counterparts. U.S. officials say they called on ASEAN and China to agree on a code of conduct for the South China Sea.
Chinese and Vietnamese ships clashed recently near a controversial Chinese oil rig in disputed waters of the South China Sea. Earlier this year, the Philippines challenged the legality of China's maritime claims at an international tribunal in The Hague. Beijing was angered by the move and refused to participate in the case. Tokyo and Beijing have been at odds over islands in the East China Sea.
Hagel's meeting with the Australian and Japanese defense ministers included talks about North Korea and its controversial nuclear program. North Korea is expected to be the main topic when the Pentagon chief meets Saturday with his counterparts from Japan and South Korea.
Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.