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US ready to help resolve dispute between Korea, Japan

Seoul

THE United States will "do what it can do" to help defuse a worsening political and economic dispute between South Korea and Japan, a senior US diplomat said on Wednesday, as South Korea warned that the row would have global repercussions.

The United States has been hesitant to publicly wade into the feud between its allies, but the dispute, which threatens global supplies of memory chips and smartphones, has overshadowed the visit by David Stilwell, the top US diplomat for East Asia policy.

Mr Stilwell told reporters in the South Korean capital, Seoul, that he took the situation seriously but did not elaborate on what steps Washington might take and said fundamentally it was up to South Korea and Japan to resolve their differences.

"We hope that resolution will happen soon," he said.

"The United States, as a close friend and ally to both, will do what it can do to support their efforts to resolve it." Last week, Mr Stilwell had told Japan's NHK broadcaster the United States would not intervene in the dispute, and instead encouraged dialogue between Washington's two biggest allies in Asia to settle it.

Simmering tension, particularly over the issue of compensation for South Koreans forced to work for Japanese occupiers during World War Two, took a sharp turn for the worse 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 South Korea over the labour dispute in announcing the restrictions.

Instead, Japan has cited "inadequate management" of sensitive items exported to South Korea, with Japanese media reporting some items ended up in North Korea.

South Korea has denied that.

The export curbs could hurt global technology companies, including the operations of South Korean tech giant Samsung in the Texas state capital of Austin, a senior South Korean government official told reporters.

"It will adversely affect companies ranging from Apple, Amazon, Dell, Sony and billions of consumers all over the world," the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity in order to discuss sensitive diplomatic issues.

Samsung Electronics said in a statement in response to the official's comments: "We cannot say there will be no impact on the Austin factory, but we will make utmost effort not to disrupt future production." When asked whether the South Korean government was considering retaliatory measures, the official said South Korea preferred to resolve the dispute diplomatically.

Yasutoshi Nishimura, Japan's deputy chief cabinet secretary, urged South Korea to take "appropriate steps" to resolve the labour issue, which was reignited by a South Korean court last year that ordered Japanese companies to pay compensation.Japan believes the issue of compensation for its wartime actions was settled under a 1965 treaty. REUTERS