SINGAPORE - Japan will take on a bigger international security role, vowed Prime Minister Shinzo Abe as he called for states to observe the rule of law in resolving territorial disputes.
Mr Abe also pledged his support for Asean countries - several locked in maritime disputes with China - as they work to protect their territories.
"Japan intends to play an even greater and more proactive role than it has until now in making peace in Asia and the world something more certain," said Mr Abe in his keynote address in Singapore on Friday at the Shangri-La Dialogue, an annual forum organised by the International Institute for Strategic Studies for top defence officials from the Asia-Pacific.
Tensions in the region have ratcheted up recently with Japan and China locked in a long-running dispute over islands in the East China Sea. Beijing and several Asean nations are also at odds over claims to the minerals-rich South China Sea.
"Japan will offer its utmost support for the efforts of the countries of Asean as they work to ensure the security of the seas and the skies, and thoroughly maintain freedom of navigation and freedom of overflight," said Mr Abe.
Stressing the importance of respecting international law, Mr Abe said the states must make claims that are "faithful in light of international law, not resorting to force or coercion, and resolving all disputes through peaceful means".
"Japan for the rule of law. Asia for the rule of law. And the rule of law for all of us. Peace and prosperity in Asia, forever more," he declared.
Mr Abe's address, the first to the forum by a Japanese leader, comes as he pushed to ease restrictions of the post-war, pacifist constitution that have kept Japan's military from engaging in wars since World War II.
In his speech delivered in Japanese, Mr Abe also emphasised the importance of the East Asia Summit as a platform for leaders to discuss regional policies and security.
The three-day forum, which started on Friday, will also see speakers such as US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel and other top defence officials.