TOKYO, Dec. 9, 2010 - The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff met here today with Japanese leaders to encourage closer bi and multilateral cooperation, not only to confront current threats like North Korea, but also to tap new opportunities to advance regional security.

Meeting with Gen. Ryoichi Oriki, Japanese chief of staff, Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa and Vice Foreign Minister Kenichiro Sasae, Navy Adm. Mike Mullen underscored the importance of the longstanding U.S.-Japan alliance and the desire to reinvigorate it during “these very critical times.”

Mullen, who traveled here after meeting with South Korean leaders in Seoul, recognized the volatility of the region, much of it owed to “the reckless behavior of the North Korean regime, enabled by their friends in China.”

The chairman condemned North Korea’s recent provocations, most recently, an unprovoked Nov. 23 artillery attack on South Korea’s Yeonpyeong Island, and said he fears it’s not the last.

“I actually believe that because these provocations continue in seemingly more frequent intervals that the danger is going up and that steps must be taken to ensure that they stop,” he told reporters at a news conference at the U.S. Embassy.

Mullen reiterated his call for China to exert its influence and get North Korea to change course. “There is no country in the world that has more influence in Pyongyang than China,” he said. “And that is part of responsible leadership, of being a global power, and I would hope [China] would heed this call and do that.”

But Mullen said it’s also up to Japan, South Korea and the United States, as well as other regional nations, to work together in a way that that not only sends a clear deterrent message to North Korea and China, but also promotes longer-term regional security.

“The strong preference is that this be done peacefully, that we don’t get into a situation that escalates, and that leaders and countries step forward to ensure that doesn’t happen,” he said.

Noting the 42 nations contributing troops in Afghanistan, Mullen called multilateral cooperation “the way of the future.”

“No single nation can address all of today’s challenges alone,” he said. “Even if someone could, there is a greater strength to be found in the diversity of talent and skill presented through multilateral cooperation.”

The chairman, visiting here as the United States and Japan conduct the “Keen Sword” bilateral military exercise, said he was encouraged that South Korea had sent military observers to participate. Mullen called it “a terrific first step to broadening our trilateral relationship and deepening our collective readiness.”

Mullen emphasized the value of this trilateral military engagement, citing “a real sense of urgency” on the Korean peninsula “that is much better addressed with all of us, together, in terms of showing strength and getting to a point where we are able to deter North Korea’s behavior.”

The chairman acknowledged past acrimony between Japan and South Korea, but said today’s challenges and future opportunities require looking ahead, together. “All leaders, civilian and military, have to figure out a way, in the region and in the world, to work together and be less tied to our past,” he said.

Dwelling on the past "too often drags us back when we should be moving forward,” he said. It “can hold back initiatives for the future which are really important as we look at this changing world.”

Mullen praised Japan’s leadership in that changing world: spearheading international maritime and commercial initiatives and expanding its role in international security affairs, including contributions to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

He said he was heartened during today’s meeting with Japanese leaders about their commitment to the Japan-U.S. partnership and their willingness to enhance it in ways that benefit the alliance and the region.

In doing so, the chairman warned against letting tactical issues drive strategic thought – with short-term objectives obscuring long-term outcomes.

“It was through such a view that we approached our discussions in Seoul, and it is through this view that I believe Japan and the United States must continue to approach our own bilateral relations,” he said. “What is necessary, over the long term, is a larger vision for a stable, secure and even more prosperous region -- not based on threats but on opportunities, not mired in fear, but alighted through mutual trust and cooperation.”

Japan and the United States have shared this type of trust and cooperation for 50 years, Mullen said, and will continue building on it as they explore ways to strengthen their alliance for the future.

“Yesterday I was in Seoul, reaffirming in the face of this hostility our strong commitment to the defense of South Korea and to security on the peninsula,” he said.

“Today, I come to Tokyo for much the same reason: to reaffirm America's unbreakable bond with the people of Japan, to reassure you of our enduring defense obligations under Article Five of the mutual defense treaty, and to our pledge to look for ways to improve cooperation across the full spectrum of military operations.”