US to mediate in Japan, South Korea trade conflict

John Bolton arrives in Tokyo today in an effort to ease tensions between US' biggest alies in Asia

US National Security Adviser John Bolton

National Security Adviser John Bolton departed on Saturday for a trip to Japan and South Korea as a trade dispute between the two countries shows no signs of easing. During his visit he will have "conversations with critical allies and friends," a White House National Security Council spokesman said on Twitter.

While in Japan, Bolton is also likely to seek support for a US initiative to heighten surveillance of vital Middle East shipping lanes, which has been greeted warily by allies reluctant to raise tensions with Iran, which Washington blames for attacks on tankers. Japanese media has said the issue could be on the agenda when Bolton visits Japan, where any military commitment abroad would risk inflaming a divide in public opinion in a country whose armed forces have not fought overseas since World War Two.

The US trip comes as President Donald Trump on Friday offered his help to ease tensions in the political and economic rift between country's two biggest allies in Asia, which threatens global supplies of memory chips and smartphones. Lingering tensions, particularly over the issue of compensation for South Koreans forced to work for Japanese occupiers during World War Two, worsened this month when Japan restricted exports of high-tech materials to South Korea. Japan has denied that the dispute over compensation is behind the export curbs, even though one of its ministers cited broken trust with Seoul over the labor dispute in announcing the restrictions.

Meanwhile, Japan's foreign minister said Friday that Tokyo will take "necessary measures" against South Korea if the interests of Japanese companies are harmed in the escalating dispute.

Subsequently, Trump told reporters at the White House later that day that that South Korean President Moon Jae-in had asked him if he could get involved.

"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."

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