Published: Wed, July 17, 2019
Global News | By Blake Casey

USA diplomat visits Seoul as South Korea, Japan dispute worsens

USA diplomat visits Seoul as South Korea, Japan dispute worsens

Washington has been hesitant to publicly wade into the row, but the dispute, which threatens global supplies of memory chips and smartphones, has overshadowed the visit by David Stilwell, the top USA diplomat for East Asia policy.

Last week, Stilwell had told Japan's NHK broadcaster the United States would not intervene in the dispute, and instead encouraged dialogue between Washington's two biggest allies in Asia to settle it.

Japan has disputed South Korea's insistence that it urged Tokyo to withdraw the export curbs during the meeting in Tokyo that lasted more than five hours.

Japan has made a decision to reject South Korea's request to hold another working-level meeting on Tokyo's recent tightening of export controls, government sources said Wednesday, amid rising bilateral trade tensions.

South Korean officials are anxious about irrecoverable trade relations between Seoul and Tokyo if Japan takes additional measures, including the removal of South Korea from a so-called "white list" of trusted importers.

Even South Korean President Moon Jae-in joined the fray July 15 by indicating he also felt Japan implemented the measure because it feared the materials were being smuggled to North Korea.

Seoul proposed a joint fund put together by South Korean and Japanese firms, while Tokyo wanted an arbitration panel brokered by a third country.

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"The government is working on comprehensive plans to reduce the country's dependence on Japan's materials, components and equipment industries", he said at the start of a regular meeting of ministers responsible for various aspects of the economy.

However, Tokyo has since claimed that the export controls were due to issues of national security, claiming that the chemicals were not properly controlled and that Seoul may have violated North Korea sanctions.

South Korea and Japan are closely linked economically and culturally and host a total of about 80,000 USA troops on their soils, the core of America's military presence in the region.

The companies have refused to comply, in line with Japan's stance that the issue of compensation was resolved under a 1965 treaty that established diplomatic relations between the countries.

The dispute is also bleeding into North Korea policy, a key agenda item for Stilwell, who arrived on Tuesday.

Nishimura said Japan will consider all options to protect Japanese companies. "No compensation plan can be discussed without the consent of the victims", it said, adding, "Some media reports are saying that the South Korean government is giving it consideration, yet the reports are not true at all".

Nevertheless, on Tuesday, a South Korean intelligence official fired back, telling lawmakers that Japan had been "lukewarm and passive" in enforcing United Nations sanctions on North Korea. But they are often embroiled in historical and territorial disputes stemming from Japan's 1910-45 colonial occupation of the Korean Peninsula.

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