Updated at: 03/21/2013 9:09 PM
By AUDREY McAVOY
(AP) HONOLULU - The top U.S. military commander in the Pacific is hosting Japan’s most senior uniformed officer this week for talks on regional security and strengthening the U.S.-Japan alliance.
Adm. Samuel Locklear from U.S. Pacific Command and Japan Self Defense Forces’ joint chief, Gen. Shigeru Iwasaki, are meeting in Hawaii on Thursday and Friday.
The meetings are a regularly scheduled consultation between the two allies, said Staff Sgt. Carl Hudson, a Pacific Command spokesman. He said the meetings are similar to regular discussions the U.S. also holds with allies the Philippines and Australia.
The dialogue "offers these leaders an opportunity to discuss ways to deepen operational cooperation and to improve the effectiveness of bilateral operations," Hudson said in an email Thursday.
Kyodo News reported Locklear and Iwasaki were to discuss joint operation plans for any contingency involving islands claimed by both Japan and China, known as Diaoyu in China and Senkaku in Japan. Kyodo said Locklear and Iwasaki were expected to agree to accelerate the drafting of the plans.
Asked whether Locklear and Iwasaki would discuss how their two countries would respond to any contingency over the islands, Hudson said the U.S. doesn’t take sides in territorial disputes and encourages all parties to find a peaceful resolution.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said on Thursday that China was "seriously concerned" about Japanese media reports saying Japan and the U.S. were updating their military defense plans involving the disputed islands.
"Diaoyu is an inherent part of Chinese territory," Hong said. "The Chinese government is resolved and able to defend national sovereignty and no external force can weaken the will and resolve of the Chinese government and the Chinese people to defend national sovereignty."
The islands are the focus of a decades-long dispute that reignited in September, when the Japanese government purchased three of the islands from their private owners. Japan aimed to prevent the islands from being bought by Tokyo’s former nationalist mayor, who wanted to build a dock there for Japanese fishing boats and backed sending experts to the islands to study the wildlife and terrain.
The purchase prompted anti-Japanese protests in China, and Beijing has regularly sent ships to confront the Japanese coast guard in the area.
Associated Press writer Christopher Bodeen contributed from Beijing.
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)