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Tokyo residents watches North Korea's projectile launch Tokyo residents watches North Korea's projectile launch  (AFP or licensors)

US envoy in Japan, South Korea amid deepening rift between neighbors

A US-led effort to get North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons will continue this week as US envoy Stephen Biegun holds talks in Japan and South Korea, amid a deepening rift between the two neighbors.

By Alastair Wanklyn - Tokyo, Japan

The United States envoy to North Korea is holding meetings here in Japan and in South Korea, days after North Korea fired several salvos of missiles.

US President Donald Trump said this month North Korea's leader is ready to restart talks on giving up nuclear weapons. He offered to meet. 

President Trump hails the fact that North Korea has not tested a nuclear weapon since he began dialogue with Kim Jong Un. 

And South Korea, too, is sounding conciliatory towards the North. The government in Seoul on Friday shrugged off criticism from Pyongyang, by saying it will continue to work for better ties.

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Tensions between neighbors

But South Korea's ties with another neighbour, Japan, are heading downwards. Demonstrators in Seoul are demanding that Japanese companies pay compensation to Koreans who laboured during World War II, many of them for no pay.

South Korean courts have ordered the seizure of assets from companies that used such labour.

Japan's government is furious. It says such claims were settled in a one-off compensation payment more than 50 years ago.

Japan accuses the South Korean government of revisionism. It has made apparent retaliation against South Korea's economy, imposing a go-slow process on the sale of chemicals used to make computer chips.

By many maeasures, the two neighbours should be close allies. They are democracies with strong religious and civil freedoms. They are both security clients of the United States.

But week by week the rift is deepening. South Korea suggests it may tear up an agreement under which it shares security information with Japan.

Such a move would damage the relationship with the United States.

Korean unification hopes

Meanwhile, on the Korean Peninsula, South Korea's President Moon Jae-in says he hopes the North chooses prosperity over a nuclear programme.

He wants Pyongyang and Seoul to bid jointly to host the Olympic Games. And he says unification is possible by the year 2045.

18 August 2019, 16:58