Obama and Noda
U.S. President Barack Obama (R) greets Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda after a joint news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington, April 30, 2012. REUTERS

In a joint press conference with Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda of Japan, President Obama called America's alliance with Japan a bulwark of regional stability and said China must couple economic growth with human rights reforms.

The United States and Japan recently reached an agreement to shift about 9,000 U.S. Marines from the Japanese island of Okinawa to other locations throughout the Pacific, part of a broader effort to bolster America's military presence in the region as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan wind down. Obama called Japan an essential partner in the military realignment strategy.

We think we've found an effective mechanism to move this process forward in a way that is respectful of the situation in Okinawa and the views of residents there, but also is able to optimize the defense cooperation between our two countries and the alliance that's the linchpin of not just our own security but the security of the region as a whole, Obama said.

Obama deflected a question about a blind Chinese dissident, Chen Guangcheng, who fled house arrest and reportedly is seeking asylum from American diplomats in Beijing. But Obama noted that human rights have surfaced every time he has met with Chinese officials and said that human rights reforms would be beneficial for both China and its international partners.

Not only is it that the right thing to do because it comports with our principles and belief in freedom and human rights but also because we think China will be stronger as it opens up and liberalizes its systems, Obama said. We want China to be strong and we want China to be prosperous.

America's realignment towards the Pacific has involved potentially provocative exercises, including mock beach invasions along stretches of coastline in the Philippines that face China. Obama called on China to check its burgeoning economic clout by abiding by international agreements. Obama specifically mentioned maritime disputes, a possible reference to China's clashes with other nations over territory such as the South China Sea.

All of our actions are not designed to in any way contain China, but to ensure they are part of a broad international community in which rules and norms are respected and in which all countries can prosper and succeed, Obama said.

Prime Minister Noda said North Korea's unsuccessful attempt to launch a satellite earlier this month underscored the need for a robust U.S.-Japan alliance and said the launch undermined diplomatic efforts. Noda warned of a great possibility that North Korea would conduct a nuclear test, and Obama reiterated his policy of punishing North Korea with economic and diplomatic isolation.

The old pattern of provocation that then gets attention and somehow insists on the world purchasing good behavior from them cannot work, Obama said.

Obama also got in a veiled jab at presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney. When asked about Romney's statement that any president would have authorized the raid that killed Osama bin Laden nearly a year ago -- a decision the Obama campaign has been touting -- Obama seemed to reference Romney's saying in 2007 that it's not worth moving heaven and earth, spending billions of dollars just trying to catch one person.

I assume people meant what they said when they said it. That's at least been my practice, Obama said. If there's folks who said they would do one thing and now suggest they would do something else, the president added, I'd go ahead and let them explain it.