Japan and the United States are considering changing the planned in-person meeting of their foreign and defense chiefs in January to a virtual format due to the spread of the omicron variant of the coronavirus, sources familiar with the matter have said.

Arrangements had been made for Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi and Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi to visit Washington for the “two-plus-two” talks with their U.S. counterparts, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, on Jan. 7.

A rapid surge in omicron cases in the United States has led both sides to consider holding a virtual meeting instead on Jan. 7 or 8, the sources said Friday.

The first two-plus-two meeting under the administration of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who took office in October, is intended to demonstrate the bilateral alliance’s strength in the face of China’s military rise. The foreign and defense chiefs are expected to deepen cooperation in the domains of space and cyberspace.

Hayashi and Blinken were expected to sign an agreement on host nation support for U.S. forces stationed in Japan covering the five years from April, but the two sides will consider other options, the sources said.

One option is for former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, who was confirmed last week by the Senate as the next U.S. ambassador to Japan, to sign it once he arrives in Japan.

After bilateral negotiations, Japan has agreed to pay ¥1.05 trillion ($9.2 billion) over the five-year period.

With the cancellation of his U.S. trip under consideration, Hayashi is unlikely to attend a U.N. review conference on the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons before the two-plus-two meeting, the sources said.

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