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U.S. supports use of WTO system to settle Seoul-Tokyo trade dispute: official

Diplomacy 04:59 June 26, 2020

By Lee Haye-ah

WASHINGTON, June 25 (Yonhap) -- The United States supports the use of the World Trade Organization's dispute settlement process to resolve trade issues between South Korea and Japan, a senior U.S. official said Thursday.

The comment by David Stilwell, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, comes after Seoul reopened its complaint against Tokyo's export restrictions at the WTO.

South Korea had dropped the complaint last year to seek a settlement through further talks with its neighbor, but reversed its decision citing a lack of progress.

This EPA file photo shows U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs David Stilwell. (Yonhap)

This EPA file photo shows U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs David Stilwell. (Yonhap)

"These systems are out there for all of us to use, and to have a discussion on resolving trade issues or other things," Stilwell said during a virtual press briefing discussing the 70th anniversary of the start of the Korean War.

"These processes are there for a reason, and allow two sides to have a discussion on that. We support the use of these mechanisms to resolve these differences. Again, I encourage both sides to maintain the dialogue as we look forward to getting these contentious issues -- if not fully solved -- at least having a conversation," he said.

The trade dispute is rooted in a separate feud over compensation for atrocities committed during Japan's 1910-45 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.

Despite the tensions, Stilwell noted that there has been "positive interaction" between Seoul and Tokyo in dealing with the coronavirus pandemic.

He also said Washington's alliances with both nations have been "key" to combating authoritarianism and totalitarian ideologies in the Indo-Pacific region. These ideas seek to "undermine the global order," he added in apparent reference to China's growing dominance on the world stage.

"We share a common vision with the Republic of Korea and Japan for the region, based on security and prosperity," Stilwell said. "That includes democracy, freedom of expression, open markets and inclusivity. Based on these shared interests, we are encouraged Japan and the ROK are building a positive relationship that will come to terms with the past and move together, move forward together into the future."

Stilwell said he would not discuss the nuclear talks with North Korea because they are not part of his portfolio.

"But what I will note is that if you look at the policy on North Korea in this administration, we've created the environment to have a productive conversation," he said, pointing to the Singapore and Hanoi summits between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

"And the ball is in their court," he added. "We stand ready to continue that discussion."


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