U.S. President Barack Obama and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe have renewed their commitment to stability and dialogue in the East China Sea, where Tokyo and Beijing are involved in a heated territorial dispute.
The White House said in a statement that the two leaders discussed the issue during a telephone call on Wednesday. It comes just days after Obama brought up the same topic during a summit in California with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
China and Japan are engaged in a long-running dispute over an uninhabited island chain, known in Japan as Senkaku and in China as Diaoyu. The dispute worsened in the past year, with both sides sending planes and ships to patrol the energy-rich, strategic area.
Officially, Washington has not taken a position on the ownership of the Tokyo-controlled islands. But U.S. officials have said recently the dispute would fall under a mutual defense treaty.
During the phone call Wednesday, Obama also said Washington looks forward to being able to welcome Japan into negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade agreement.
The U.S. has already approved Japan's entry into the talks on the TPP, but Tokyo is still waiting approval from several other member nations. With the inclusion of Japan, the ambitious, U.S.-led trade pact would cover nearly 40 percent of the world's economy.
The White House statement also said Obama and Abe pledged to continue to "work together closely toward the elimination of North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missile programs."