ABC News' Yunji de Nies, Karen Travers, Jake Tapper and Sunlen Miller report from Tokyo:
Calling himself "America's first Pacific president," President Barack Obama reaffirmed the alliance between the United States and Japan as one based on "equality and mutual respect," and vowed to deepen the partnership moving forward.
"Our alliance has endured because it reflects our common values – a belief in the democratic right of free people to choose their own leaders and realize their own dreams; a belief that made possible the election of both Prime Minister Hatoyama and myself on the promise of change,” the president told a crowd of Japanese leaders and citizens at Suntory Hall in Tokyo. “And together, we are committed to providing a new generation of leadership for our people, and our alliance."
Obama said his commitment extends beyond Japan to the entire Pacific region, and that the U.S. is bound to these nations by a common past, prosperity and people.
He invoked his upbringing as a native of Hawaii with ties to Indonesia, telling the group that "the Pacific rim has helped shape my view of the world."
The president said what happens in the region has a direct impact on American citizens.
"This is where we engage in much of our commerce and buy many of our goods. And this is where we can export more of our own products and create jobs back home in the process," Obama said.
The president also spoke about common challenges, focusing on the nuclear threat posed by Iran and North Korea.
As he has in the past, the president said Pyongyang has a clear choice: continue to pursue weapons and further isolate itself, or return to the six-party talks on a path to peace.
“We will not be cowed by threats, and we will continue to send a clear message through our actions and not just our words: North Korea's refusal to meet its international obligations will lead only to less security — not more,” Obama said.
Before departing Japan, Obama will sit down for lunch with the emperor and empress.
From here, the president will head to Singapore for the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum (APEC). There, he will focus on the global economy, particularly in the context of U.S.-China trade relations. China is on track to surpass Japan as the world's second-largest economy, after only the United States.
With $800 billion in U.S. Treasury bonds, China is America's largest creditor, making the two economies inextricably linked.
"The United States does not seek to contain China, nor does a deeper relationship with China mean a weakening of our bilateral alliances. On the contrary, the rise of a strong and prosperous China can be a source of strength for the community of nations," the president said.
Still, he acknowledged that the two countries still have significant differences on an array of issues, particularly when it comes to human rights.
"The United States will never waver in speaking up for the fundamental values that we hold dear – and that includes respect for the religion and cultures of all people. Because support for human rights and human dignity is ingrained in America. But we can move these discussions forward in a spirit of partnership rather than rancor," he said.
In Singapore, President Obama also will meet with the leaders of ASEAN, the Association of South East Asian nations, becoming the first U.S. president to do so. Burmese Prime Minister Thein Sein, a member of the ruling junta, will be among that group. The U.S. and Burma long have been at odds over the issue of human rights in Burma. The president said until Burma pursue democratic reform, the U.S. will keep existing sanctions in place,
"There are clear steps that must be taken – the unconditional release of all political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi; an end to conflicts with minority groups; and a genuine dialogue between the government, the democratic opposition and minority groups on a shared vision for the future. That is how a government in Burma will be able to respond to the needs of its people. That is the path that will bring Burma true security and prosperity," he said.