Japan and the United States pledged Thursday to enhance the Asian nation's defense capabilities, including its new ability to strike targets in enemy territory, with North Korea's ongoing weapons development posing a security threat to the region.

Japanese ministers and U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin agreed in Tokyo that the two countries will deepen their cooperation with South Korea and Australia, a day after a failed North Korean satellite launch apparently using sanctions-defying ballistic technology.

Austin said at a joint press conference with Japanese Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada after their meeting, "The United States will take all necessary measures" to safeguard the security of itself and its security allies, lambasting North Korea's "continued provocations."

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin (far L) and Japanese Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada (far R) hold talks at the Defense Ministry in Tokyo on June 1, 2023. (Kyodo)

Hamada said Tokyo and Washington will not tolerate "any unilateral attempts to change the status quo."

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told Austin separately that North Korea "forced through" the launch, jeopardizing regional security, with the two agreeing to ensure peace and stability by reinforcing the defense capabilities of both countries.

Austin's visit to Japan came as the two nations and another U.S. security ally, South Korea, have become vigilant against possible further projectile firings by the North following the botched launch Wednesday of what it calls a military reconnaissance satellite.

The defense chiefs agreed to promote discussions on the U.S. nuclear deterrence against the North, the Japanese Defense Ministry said.

They also stressed the importance of peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait, encouraging a peaceful resolution of the cross-strait issue. China views self-ruled democratic Taiwan as a renegade province to be reunified with the mainland, by force if needed.

While confirming close cooperation between Japan and the United States in dealing with "various issues" surrounding China, Hamada and Austin also agreed on the importance of "candid dialogue" with Beijing, the ministry said.

Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi told Austin in their meeting earlier in the day that the strained security situation in the region has been "clearly shown by the intensification of North Korean nuclear and missile activities."

Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi (R) and U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin shake hands at the Defense Ministry in Tokyo on June 1, 2023. (Kyodo) ==Kyodo

Austin told Hayashi in response, "We are optimizing our alliance force posture and updating our roles and missions to strengthen the deterrence," referring to China's growing military assertiveness and Russia's war in Ukraine.

Tokyo has been working with Washington to bolster the deterrence capabilities of the alliance based on the Asian nation's National Security Strategy, which was updated last December as a major shift in its security policy, featuring the acquisition of so-called counterstrike or enemy base strike capabilities.

North Korea conducted missile tests a record 37 times last year and has continued firing ballistic missiles this year, with fears lingering that the nation may be preparing to carry out its seventh nuclear test, and first since September 2017.

After the latest launch, Japan, the United States and South Korea strongly condemned North Korea for its launch using ballistic missile technology in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions to curb Pyongyang's nuclear and missile programs.

Austin arrived in Japan on the first leg of a four-country tour that will also take him to Singapore, India and France. He will attend a key annual regional defense summit in Singapore, known as the Shangri-La Dialogue.

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