(CNN) -- The United States will send more missile defense ships to Japan, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said on Sunday, as part of an effort to bolster protection from North Korean missile threats.
North Korea has carried out a series of missile launches in recent weeks and has warned it was preparing to test another nuclear device, prompting fresh criticism from the United States.
Speaking during a visit to Tokyo, Hagel announced that two Navy destroyers equipped with missile defense systems would be deployed to Japan by 2017.
"A key focus for our talks today was the threat posed by North Korea," Hagel told reporters after he met with Japan's defense and foreign ministers.
"In response to Pyongyang's pattern of provocative and destabilizing actions, including recent missile launches in violation of UN Security Council resolutions, I can announce today that the United States is planning to forward-deploy two additional AEGIS ballistic missile defense ships to Japan by 2017. This will bring our Japan-based fleet of BMD-capable ships to a total of seven."
The announcement followed other steps taken by the Pentagon to bolster its military posture in Japan, including an October decision to establish a second missile defense radar site in Kyoto prefecture.
"These steps will greatly enhance our ability to defend both Japan and the U.S. homeland from North Korean ballistic missile threats," Hagel said.
Hagel also addressed territorial disputes between China and its neighbors.
Relations between China and Japan are under strain over a territorial row involving a set of small, uninhabited islands in the East China Sea, which has led to frequent tense encounters between the two sides' ships and planes in recent times.
"Great powers have great responsibilities, and China is a great power," Hagel said.
"And with this power comes new and wider responsibilities as to how you use that power, how do you employ that military power. And I want to talk with the Chinese about all of that. Particularly, transparency ... The more transparent and open governments can be with each other, the better for everyone. That avoids miscalculation, misinterpretation, misunderstanding, and hopefully that lowers the risks of conflict."
Hagel leaves for Beijing on Monday.
CNN's Marie-Louise Gumuchian contributed to this report