TOKYO, Dec. 9, 2010 - U.S. Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, arrived here last night to discuss with Japanese leaders how to better leverage their military expertise and improve defense cooperation in light of North Korean aggression.

Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, expressed optimism that Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates’ visit to China next month, and a possible visit to Washington early next year by Mullen’s Chinese counterpart, could invigorate the two countries’ stalled military-to-military relationship.

“I would hope that we can sustain that military-to-military relationship as opposed to what it has been, which has been on-and-off over the years,” Mullen said today during a news conference at the U.S. Embassy here.

That arrangement “doesn’t do either one of us any good,” he said.

“We follow very closely the development of defense capabilities of China,” Mullen said. But “one of the real problems of not having a relationship is, I don’t understand much about what they are doing,” he said. “I don’t understand why they are doing it. I don’t understand the depth or the reasons for their military investments.”

China says it wants a “peaceful rise,” which “would be a positive outcome for everybody,” Mullen said. But some of China’s investments -- including space and anti-ship capabilities -- “don’t necessarily match up” with that goal, he said.

“I’m hopeful that we can get a relationship established between our militaries, where we can have much more fruitful conversations that are much more transparent than has been in the past,” the admiral said. “Historically, our relationship has been far too opaque.”

Mullen reiterated during today’s news conference his call for China to exert its influence to curb North Korea’s recent spate of provocations. The most recent, a Nov. 23 artillery attack on South Korea’s Yeonpyeong Island, left four people dead.

“There is no country in the world that has more influence in Pyongyang than China,” the chairman 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.”

Mullen also acknowledged China’s complaints about U.S. military operations in the Yellow Sea, but dismissed them as baseless.

“We were very transparent about when we were going to go there and what we were going to do,” he said. “And we went when we said we were going to go and we did what we told them we were going to do. And there were no problems associated with that.”

The United States operates in these free waters with the sole reason of supporting regional security, particularly on the Korean peninsula, he said.

“We have operated in that part of the world for decades,” Mullen continued, noting his own experience there as a young junior officer stationed in the Pacific. “And we will continue to do that in the future."