US State Department Ready to Help Japan and S. Korea Resolve Trade Conflict

By Kitty Wang

As trade tensions between Japan and South Korea escalate, the U.S. State Department’s Marc Knapper said Washington stands ready to facilitate dialogue between the two allies.

The U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State said it’s critical that the U.S., Japan and South Korea maintain strong and close relationships, especially in the face of challenges posed by North Korea, Russia, and China. “We hope and we believe that Japan and Korea can find the space for creative solutions, and we United States will continue engaging on this issue and stand ready to facilitate dialogue between our two allies,” he said.

Trade tensions began escalating on July 1 when Japan imposed tight restrictions on exporting semiconductors to South Korea. The move came after a South Korean Supreme Court ruling that Japan owed reparations to Korea for forced labor during World War II. Japan says its move is not about the court ruling, but about security.

Then the two countries removed each other from their “white lists” of preferred trading partners.

Knapper said that the U.S. believes both sides have a responsibility to improve the situation to deal with the challenges in the region. “We only have to look at the recent joint patrol by Russian and Chinese aircraft as a direct challenge to our three countries and attempt to take advantage of the current frictions in Japan-South Korea relations,” he said. “We must not let challengers in the region drive a further wedge between and among our three countries.”

While Japan-South Korea disputes are complicated and have deep historical roots, observers say that, given the high stakes in the region, the United States has to get involved.

Hudson Institute’s Asia-Pacific Security Chair Patrick Cronin said,”Because we are in very delicate stage of a second year experimental diplomacy with North Korea. If this fails, we go back to if not ‘fire and fury’, certainly a very very tense period of time, a Cold War with North Korea.”

Experts have pointed out that the trade dispute could also push South Korea to cooperate more with China and Russia in the high-tech sector.

“These are very serious stakes. It’s not a war, right? But it’s a huge competition for technology and the rule-set of the 21st century, and this is why these alliances matter and this is why the U.S. has to do more to get involved,” Cronin said.

A South Korea that’s closer to China or Russia is definitely not something the U.S. would like to see.