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US Wants Role in SKorea-Japan Dispute  07/17 06:12

   SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- The United States will "do what it can" to help 
resolve festering trade and political disputes between South Korea and Japan, a 
senior U.S. official said Wednesday after a series of meetings with Seoul 
officials.

   David Stilwell, the top U.S. diplomat for East Asian affairs, is in South 
Korea for three days, as Seoul is seeking U.S. help to resolve the spat between 
two of America's most important allies in the region.

   After meeting with South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha, Stilwell 
told reporters that the United States places a "great priority on 
strengthening" its relations with South Korea and Japan.

   "Fundamentally ROK and Japan must resolve the sensitive matters and we hope 
that the resolution happens soon," Stilwell said, using the abbreviation for 
South Korea's official name, the Republic of Korea. "United States is a close 
friend and ally to both. We will do what we can to support their efforts to 
resolve this."

   Earlier Wednesday, he met other South Korean officials including deputy 
national security adviser Kim Hyun-chong, who visited Washington last week for 
talks on the trade issue.

   Kim said he explained Seoul's position on the issue to Stilwell in details. 
Kim said Stilwell "sufficiently understood the seriousness of this problem."

   South Korea and Japan are closely linked economically and culturally and 
host a total of about 80,000 U.S. troops on their soils, the core of America's 
military presence in the region. But they are often embroiled in historical and 
territorial disputes stemming from Japan's 1910-45 colonial occupation of the 
Korean Peninsula. Such on-and-off disputes have complicated U.S. efforts to 
bolster trilateral cooperation to cope with North Korea's nuclear threats and 
China's growing influence.

   The latest dispute flared after Japan tightened controls on high-tech 
exports to South Korea, potentially affecting its manufacturers and global 
supplies of high-tech products like smartphones and displays.

   South Korean officials have warned Japan not to escalate the dispute, saying 
its trade restriction would also eventually damage its own economy. Last week, 
Kang discussed the issue with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo by phone and 
conveyed Seoul's view that Japan's "undesirable" trade curbs could disrupt 
global supply chains and hurt trilateral cooperation.

   Seoul believes Japan was retaliating for South Korean court rulings last 
year that ordered Japanese companies to compensate some of their colonial-era 
Korean workers for forced labor.

   Japan has denied that, maintaining that the sensitive materials subject to 
the stricter approval process can be exported only to trustworthy trading 
partners. Some Japanese officials including Prime Minister Shinzo Abe have 
suggested that critical materials with potential military applications exported 
to South Korea may have been eventually transferred to North Korea. Seoul 
denies that.

   Japan maintains that all colonial-era compensation issues were settled in 
1965 when the two countries signed a treaty that restored their diplomatic 
ties. At the time, South Korea received more than $800 million in economic aid 
and loans from Japan and used the money to rebuild its infrastructure and 
economy devastated by the 1950-53 Korean War.

   When South Korea's Supreme Court ordered two Japanese companies to 
compensate their former forced Korean laborers, the court said the 1965 treaty 
cannot prevent individuals from seeking compensation.

   On Tuesday, Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono warned that Tokyo might take 
further action if South Korea pushes harder on the issues related to historical 
issues.

   Tokyo has requested third-party arbitration of the Korean wartime labor 
dispute as stipulated in a 1965 treaty. The deadline for a response is 
Thursday, and Seoul has indicated that it will not respond.

   Japanese Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasutoshi Nishimura on Wednesday 
urged Seoul to nullify last year's court orders on the compensation issue and 
settle by arbitration. Nishimura said Japan will consider all options to 
protect Japanese companies.


(KA)

 
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