Photo/IllutrationDefense Minister Takeshi Iwaya, right, welcomes visiting U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper prior to their meeting on Aug. 7. (Rei Kishitsu)

The defense chiefs of Japan and the United States agreed on the need for continued joint cooperation as well as with South Korea to deal with national security issues stemming from North Korea's nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles.

Agreement was reached during an Aug. 7 meeting between Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya and Mark Esper, who is making his first visit to Japan since becoming Pentagon chief on July 23.

The two agreed that such cooperation meant that Japan's General Security of Military Intelligence Agreement (GSOMIA) with South Korea must be maintained. While the agreement allows for the sharing of defense intelligence, some in South Korea have called for scrapping the agreement in light of the deteriorating bilateral relations in recent months.

Esper's Japan stop is part of an Asian tour. He plans to meet with South Korean National Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo in Seoul on Aug. 9, where he is expected to ask South Korea to maintain its GSOMIA with Japan.

The agreement is valid for a year, but is automatically renewed unless one side wants to dissolve it. This year's deadline for notifying the other side of its intention to abandon the agreement is Aug. 24.

Esper mentioned the GSOMIA when he spoke with reporters aboard the plane heading toward Japan.

"I would encourage the intel-sharing to continue," he said. "It's key to us in our common defense. I would ask (Japan and South Korea) to both resolve this issue quickly and say let's really focus on North Korea and China."

For his part, Iwaya told reporters on Aug. 7 after his meeting with Esper that the two had agreed that it was extremely important for continued cooperation between Japan, the United States and South Korea, including the continuation of the Japan-South Korea GSOMIA.

Iwaya also confirmed that the ministry had concluded that projectiles launched by North Korea on Aug. 6 were short-range ballistic missiles.

He called the launch of ballistic missiles by North Korea "extremely regrettable" because it was a violation of a U.N. Security Council resolution.

Iwaya also told reporters that the topic of Japan's host nation support to U.S. forces was not raised in his meeting with Esper.

After taking office, Esper gave a speech in a ceremony marking his appointment in which he echoed sentiments expressed repeatedly by U.S. President Donald Trump when he said, "Our allies and partners must contribute more equitably to our shared security."

With regard to Japan's contributions to hosting U.S. military facilities here, a senior administration official told The Asahi Shimbun, "The president has been clear in the expectation that our allies, including Japan, can and should contribute more, given a rapidly changing geostrategic landscape and the concomitant rise in costs of U.S. assets and deployments, as well as costs necessary to support bilateral exercises."

When John Bolton, Trump's national security adviser, visited Japan in late July, he touched upon the possibility that Washington would ask Japan for a sharp increase in contributions in future bilateral negotiations.