US seeks to calm spats between Japan, South Korea


The United States sent its top Asian diplomacy and security officials to South Korea and Japan to calm tensions between two US allies whose squabbling has frustrated efforts to deal with a troublesome North Korea and an increasingly assertive China.

The high-powered delegation from the White House, Pentagon and State Department departed on Monday and will be visiting the region shortly after the election of a new nationalist-leaning Japanese government in December and before Seoul inaugurates a new president in February.

Washington hopes South Korea and Japan can put a lid on spats over history and territory stemming from Japan’s 1910-45 occupation of Korea. U.S. officials also seek to reassure Tokyo as it confronts almost daily challenges from China over which has sovereignty of disputed islets in a separate, more dangerous, territorial row with Beijing.

The long-simmering disputes erupted anew last year, plunging Tokyo’s ties with Seoul and Beijing to troubling lows and casting a cloud over the President Barack Obama’s signature policy for East Asia – rebalancing security forces in the region – in part to cope with a surging China.

“We want to see the new Japanese government, the new South Korean government, all of the countries in Northeast Asia working together and solving any outstanding issues, whether they are territorial, whether they’re historic, through dialogue,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said last week.

Troubles between Asia’s second and fourth biggest economies are frustrating to Washington at a time when a defiant North Korea has tested a long-range rocket and may be poised to conduct its third nuclear test.