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Bolton to visit Korea, Japan amid rising tension

UN national security adviser expected to ask Korea to contribute to protecting Strait of Hormuz.

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Updated: July 21, 2019

US national security adviser John Bolton will visit South Korea this week after a stop in Japan to discuss the two US allies’ deepening row following Tokyo’s decision to curb the trade of materials crucial for the production of memory chips to Seoul.

National Security Council spokesman Garrett Marquis wrote on Twitter that Bolton departed Saturday for Japan and Korea to “continue conversations with critical allies and friends,” without elaborating on details.

Bolton will make a two-day trip to Korea on Tuesday and Wednesday, according to Cheong Wa Dae spokesperson Ko Min-jung on Sunday, after US President Donald Trump offered Friday to help ease tensions between the two East Asian countries.

“If they need me, I’m there. Hopefully they can work it out. But they do have tension, there’s no question about it,” he said, adding, “it’s a full-time job getting involved between Japan and South Korea.”

During his visit, Bolton will meet his counterpart Chung Eui-yong, director of national security at Cheong Wa Dae, as well as Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-hwa and Defense Minister Jeong Kyung-doo.

Along with the US’ mediator role in settling discord between its key allies in the region, the US adviser will discuss issues regarding denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and a permanent peace regime in the region.

He is also expected to request Korean officials to send troops to protect the Strait of Hormuz, strategically vital waters off Iran amid heightened tensions between Washington and Tehran.

The neighbors’ conflict was exacerbated Friday when Japan’s Foreign Minister Taro Kono summoned Korean Ambassador Nam Gwan-pyo after Seoul turned down Tokyo’s proposal for the formation of a third-country arbitration to resolve historical disputes stemming from Japan’s brutal acts during the 1910-45 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.

Kono said that Tokyo will take “necessary measures” against Korea if Japanese companies’ interests are harmed.

The firms in question — Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corp. — were ordered by Seoul’s Supreme Court last year to compensate Koreans forced into slave labor during World War II.

Responding to Kono’s remark, Korea’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying that Japan still has not done enough to make amends for the suffering that Koreans had gone through during the colonial period and that it should discuss ways to find solutions acceptable to both sides.

As the companies refuse to follow the ruling, Korean plaintiffs have sought or plan to seek the Korean court’s approval for the seizure and liquidation of the companies’ local assets.

While Japan believes all compensation issues had been settled under a 1965 bilateral treaty that normalized relations, the Korean court ruled that individuals had the right to seek reparations beyond the state-to-state accord.

Japan’s Kono asserted that Korea violated international law by failing to intervene to stop the court process while Kim Hyun-chong, deputy chief of Cheong Wa Dae’s National Security Office, said Tokyo had breached international law by committing crimes against humanity with the forced labor.

Making a bad situation worse was Tokyo’s July 1 decision to restrict the exports of hi-tech materials to Korea, which Seoul believes is a retaliatory measure in protest of the Supreme Court’s rulings, and has triggered concerns about disruptions in global supply chains.

“We hope that the Japanese government would withdraw its unilateral pressure, including the export restrictions of retaliatory character, and return to the stage of diplomatic resolutions,” Seoul’s ministry said in the statement.

Seoul will raise the issue in a meeting of the General Council of the World Trade Organization, which is set to convene in Geneva on Monday and Tuesday (local time) for Tokyo’s use of trade to retaliate against Seoul.

Tokyo said taking the case to the International Court of Justice is one of its options on the table.

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About the Author: ANN’s Board member Mr Zaffar Abbas, Editor of Pakistan’s Dawn has won the 2019 Gwen Ifill Press Freedom Award from the Committee to Protest Journalists.

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