The defense ministers of Japan and the United States agreed Thursday to start "intensive discussions" on the allocation of roles in the bilateral alliance after Tokyo obtains the ability to strike enemy bases.

During their meeting at the Pentagon, Japanese Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada and his U.S. counterpart Lloyd Austin also signed agreements to speed up cooperation on the development of military equipment and new technologies, and secure defense supply chains, according to both governments.

Japanese Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada (far L) and U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin (2nd from R) meet at the Pentagon on Jan. 12, 2023. (Kyodo)

Hamada and Austin agreed to "promptly have intensive discussions on roles and missions of the alliance" based on the fundamental reinforcement of Japan's defense capabilities and the "effective operation of counterstrike capabilities," the Japanese Defense Ministry said.

In a major shift in its exclusively defense-oriented policy under the pacifist Constitution, Japan revised three key defense documents last month, including the National Security Strategy, vowing to acquire counterstrike capabilities and almost double defense spending in five years.

Japan's acquisition of such capabilities could modify the countries' long-standing allocation of roles, with Washington serving as an offensive "spear" and Tokyo as a "shield" to fend off attacks.

The talks also came a day after a "two-plus-two" security meeting in Washington involving the countries' foreign and defense ministers, at which they agreed that China's increasing military clout "represents the greatest strategic challenge" in the Indo-Pacific region and vowed to bolster deterrence.

On Friday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin expressed firm opposition to the two-plus-two meeting joint statement, saying it is "full of Cold War zero-sum thinking and groundless smear attacks on China."

Wang claimed at a press conference in Beijing that Japan and the United States say they want to maintain a rules-based international order, but "wantonly trample on international law and basic norms governing international relations, and grossly interfere in the internal affairs of other countries."

These actions have become "a real challenge to regional peace, security and stability," he said.

Later Friday, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and U.S. President Joe Biden are set to hold a meeting in Washington.

"I expect active discussions at tomorrow's summit so that the solid Japan-U.S. alliance will be further strengthened under the strong leadership" of Kishida and Biden, Hamada told reporters after his talks with Austin.

Austin told Hamada that Washington is concerned about Beijing's "coercive behavior in the Taiwan Strait, and the waters surrounding Japan," as well as the North Korean missile and nuclear threats, the U.S. Defense Department said.

To develop counterstrike capabilities, Japan has decided to procure long-range Tomahawk cruise missiles from the United States until it can deploy domestically developed ones.

But Hamada and Austin did not discuss the matter, according to a Japanese government official.

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