Washington - US Defence Secretary Ash Carter will travel to Japan and South Korea this week on his first trip to the Asia-Pacific region since becoming Pentagon chief, with the aim of boosting the United States' strategic rebalance to the region, the Department of Defence said on Friday.
The trip, which begins tomorrow, is one of two that Mr Carter plans to make to the region over the next two months. Next month, he will visit Singapore for the Shangri-La Dialogue, where he will meet partners from South-east Asia, and then travel on to India.
The visits come at a time of tensions in the region as China and its closest neighbours jockey for control of resources in the contested waters, reefs and islands of the South China and East China seas.
The US has urged China and its neighbours to resolve their maritime and territorial disputes peacefully.
Mr Carter will stop at Arizona State University on the first leg of his journey to speak to students about the links between national security and economic security, the Pentagon said in a statement.
He also will discuss the administration's plans to push ahead with the rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region that President Barack Obama announced in 2012.
The rebalance called for an intensified focus on the region by the Pentagon as well as other government agencies.
Mr Carter will arrive in Japan late on Tuesday and meet Japanese leaders on Wednesday and Thursday to discuss bilateral security and other issues ahead of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's visit to Washington at the end of this month.
Japan and the US have said they will decide by the end of June on a new set of guidelines for their decades-old alliance that will give Japan a more prominent role.
The US defence chief will arrive in Seoul on Thursday and will meet senior government officials on Friday to reaffirm the US commitment to South Korea's security.
Mr Carter will meet senior US military leaders in the Pacific during a visit to the Pacific Command in Hawaii on Saturday.