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US is actively engaged to help resolve S. Korea-Japan row: official

The United States is actively engaged in efforts to resolve the current trade and historical row between South Korea and Japan, and will continue to encourage both sides to find "positive solutions," a top US official said Wednesday.

David Stilwell, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, made the remark at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, saying that he has spent a "considerable" amount of time on the issue in his two and a half months in office.

"We are actively engaged. Because that activity may not be visible publicly, it doesn't mean it's not happening," he said, citing a trilateral meeting between the top diplomats of South Korea, the US and Japan in Bangkok last month.

"These alliances are very important, and the trilateral nature of that sends a very strong message to the region," he continued.

David Stilwell (Yonhap)
David Stilwell (Yonhap)

"I will tell you that we will continue working and encouraging both to look for positive solutions to this current issue."

South Korea and Japan have engaged in a tit-for-tat escalation of tensions since Tokyo imposed export controls against Seoul in July in apparent retaliation for a South Korean court ruling that ordered compensation from Japanese firms to Koreans mobilized for forced labor during Japan's 1910-45 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.

South Korea later announced its decision to withdraw from a military intelligence-sharing pact with Japan, leading Washington to voice disappointment and concern over its potential impact on trilateral cooperation against North Korea's nuclear threats and China's military rise.

Stilwell said that in a meeting with his counterparts in Bangkok last month he encouraged both sides to "take a pause and look at resolution versus continuing to express their concern."

He also said that during a trip to Seoul in July he discussed other things Washington could do in talks with US Ambassador to South Korea Harry Harris.

"There are arbitration mechanisms involved in their 1965 agreement and others that we encourage them both to use," Stilwell added later at a hearing before the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia, referring to a Seoul-Tokyo agreement on normalizing ties.

"It's not worth picking sides or naming one is somehow at fault," he said. "The solution is to look forward -- it's not looking backwards -- and to acknowledge the importance of their cooperation for their own security, their own prosperity, and for, certainly in the case of missile defense and all the others, the security of the US and US forces in Korea and Japan."

Stilwell said he has carried this message consistently and hopes the two countries will begin to mend their relations. (Yonhap)