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Trump will ‘get involved’ in trade dispute

Bolton to visit Korea and Japan to promote dialogue as allies
July 22,2019
U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday said he would intervene in the ongoing dispute between Korea and Japan over wartime forced labor issues that prompted economic retaliations from Tokyo.

Speaking to reporters at the White House, Trump said President Moon Jae-in had informed him of the “friction going on now [with Japan] with respect to trade” and requested that Trump “get involved” in resolving the dispute.

“I like both leaders. I like President Moon, and you know how I feel about [Japanese] Prime Minister [Shinzo] Abe. He’s a very special guy also,” Trump said. “So if they need me, I’m there.”

The U.S. president’s impromptu remarks on Seoul and Tokyo’s diplomatic row - the first of its kind - was followed up by the departure of his national security adviser, John Bolton, to the two countries on Saturday in an effort to “continue conversations with critical allies and friends,” according to U.S. National Security Council spokesman Garrett Marquis on Twitter.

Korea’s Blue House announced Sunday that Bolton is set to meet Chung Eui-yong, director of the National Security Office, on Wednesday to discuss the North’s denuclearization and other “major issues.” The row with Japan could also be discussed in Bolton’s meeting with Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha booked during his two day visit to Korea from Tuesday.

Bolton is expected to encourage the two U.S. allies to resolve their spat through dialogue rather than him taking a “mediating role,” in line with recent remarks coming from top U.S. officials like David Stilwell, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, and U.S. Ambassador to Seoul Harry Harris who ruled out an arbiter’s role for Washington at present circumstances.

While he urged the two sides to reach a resolution and pledged U.S. support to that account at the Foreign Ministry on Wednesday, Stilwell reportedly later told the Korean National Assembly’s Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Rep. Yoon Sang-hyun that the United States “could not take one side or the other because taking one side means losing the other.”

Citing a diplomatic source, Japan’s Asahi Shimbun on Sunday said the United States was trying to arrange a trilateral deputy ministers’ meeting between the three countries - including Stilwell - potentially at the Asean Regional Forum in Thailand later this month or on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in September.

The recent diplomatic conflict between the two countries revolves around Japan’s announcement earlier this month that it would enforce tighter restrictions on exports to South Korea of three key materials used in semiconductors and displays, including fluorinated polyimide, photoresists and hydrogen fluoride, in apparent reaction to a Korean court’s order that Japanese companies pay compensation for their use of Korean forced laborers during World War II.

With Korean companies controlling a majority of the world’s chip market, Tokyo’s export restrictions threaten to shake electronics manufacturing around the globe.

This week, Japan is expected to remove Korea from a “white list” of trusted importers, which would force its companies to apply for additional licenses to export items.

In reaction, top officials in Seoul are mulling whether to scrap a bilateral military intelligence-sharing agreement with Tokyo, known as the General Security of Military Information Agreement (Gsomia).

According to the Asahi report, U.S. officials are particularly concerned with Korea’s reconsiderations on Gsomia, given Washington’s firm support for the agreement and its role in coordinating with allies in the region.

Bolton’s visit may also be aimed at preserving Gsomia, which a U.S. State Department spokesman called “an important tool in our shared efforts to maintain peace and security in the region and achieve the FFVD [final, fully verified denuclearization] of North Korea.”

Developments in both countries’ domestic politics, however, makes it unclear whether Washington may be able to bridge the growing rift among its allies. Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party looks likely to win a major victory in Japan’s upper house elections tomorrow, giving him the mandate to push through constitutional reform that would enable the country to wage war abroad. With historical issues front and center of the current trade dispute, such a move is likely to further inflame tensions with Seoul.

BY SHIM KYU-SEOK [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr]