China complaint over MP's comments looms over Turnbull's visit to Japan

Defence and trade ties are expected to dominate the agenda when Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull holds bilateral talks with his Japanese counterpart in Tokyo.

Japanese troops will be able to conduct military exercises more easily in Australia under an agreement Malcolm Turnbull is hoping to cement next week during his visit to Tokyo.

The prime minister will visit Japan on Thursday for an annual leaders' dialogue with his counterpart Shinzo Abe.

The visit is Mr Turnbull's first overseas trip since his government released its foreign policy white paper last year and coincides with a tense period in Australia's relationship with China.

Beijing this week lodged an official protest with Australia's embassy after International Development Minister Concetta Fierravanti-Wells criticised China's assistance to tiny Pacific island nations as building "white elephant" projects and "roads to nowhere".

However, the ongoing threat of North Korea's nuclear testing program is expected to dominate the agenda.

The two leaders are committed to closer defence ties. Australia and Japan have been negotiating a visiting forces agreement since 2014.

Mr Turnbull flagged there will be more joint exercises, information sharing and defence industry collaboration.

"We are working to formalise this in our reciprocal access agreement that will further enhance our defence interoperability," Mr Turnbull said in a statement.

It's understood the agreement will be signed later this year.

Acting Opposition Leader Penny Wong signalled Labor would be receptive to the plan.

"Japan is one of our closest friends and allies and one of Australia's three biggest trading partners and Labor would always be prepared to look favourably on any proposal for closer co-operation with Japan," she said in a statement

Prime Minister Abe is pushing to amend his country's post-World War II pacifist constitution so the Japanese defence force can expand its role globally.

Trade and investment are also a key focus of the trip. The Japan-Australia free trade pact is now three years old.

Mr Turnbull and Mr Abe have been champions of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement which is still in limbo.

There were hopes the agreement could be revived at the Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation summit in Vietnam last year, sans the US; however, Canada threw a spanner in the works at the last moment.

Negotiations between the 11 countries remain open-ended.