Bolton to visit Tokyo, Seoul next week to mediate trade row

20-Jul-2019 Intellasia | Korea Times | 6:02 AM Print This Post

With US National Security Adviser John Bolton expected in South Korea next week after stopping in Japan, experts say the visit could indicate that the US believes the trade feud between Seoul and Tokyo is serious.

This analysis came after multiple media outlets from Japan and South Korea reported on Bolton’s possible visit, citing diplomatic sources. While a NHK report said Bolton’s visit to Seoul was likely to take place next Tuesday, an anonymous foreign ministry official told reporters in Seoul that the specific schedule was still being discussed by the US and South Korea.

Bolton’s visit, if realised, will come amid an ongoing trade row between Seoul and Tokyo, while the two countries are at odds over wartime labour issues and Japan’s stricter export controls involving Korea. Bolton could ask Tokyo and Seoul to resolve the issue through dialogue. Matthew Pottinger, NSC senior director for Asian affairs, might also come to Tokyo and Seoul, some reports said.

Kim Hyun-wook, a professor at the Korea National Diplomatic Academy, said on Friday that Bolton’s visit could be a signal that the US will take a more active role in meditating the worsening trade row.

“Because Bolton has taken a hardline stance toward China, he values the trilateral alliance among the US, South Korea and Japan,” Kim said.

“As the ongoing conflict between Seoul and Tokyo does not seem as it will be settled in the near future, even after Stilwell’s visit to South Korea, Bolton is likely to address the issue again by visiting the two countries,” he added. He was referring to the recent visit to South Korea by David Stillwell, the new assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs. Stillwell visited Seoul from Tuesday to Thursday.

Park Won-gon, an international relations professor at Handong Global University, said the US was trying to prevent the trade conflict from snowballing into a bigger issue.

“Bolton is likely to tell the Japanese side not to take further hostile measures toward South Korea, while telling the South Korean side to discuss the forced labour issue with Japan, without putting any conditions,” Park said.

Meanwhile, Bolton is likely to discuss with officials in Japan and South Korea the US initiative to form an international military coalition to safeguard the seas waters around Iran and Yemen to ensure freedom of navigation.

US President Donald Trump earlier this month called for the allies’ cooperation in the maritime mission to protect commercial shipping in waterways off Iran, which the US blames for recent attacks on oil tankers from near the Strait of Hormuz.


Category: Korea

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