WASHINGTON • US President Donald Trump has said he remained at the ready to help South Korea and Japan solve their lingering dispute over World War II-era forced labour that has blighted their trade ties.
After South Korea's High Court ordered Japanese firms that used forced labour to compensate victims, Tokyo early this month restricted exports of chemicals vital to Seoul's world-leading chip and smartphone industry, citing "security concerns".
At the White House on Friday, Mr Trump said South Korean President Moon Jae-in "tells me that they have a lot of friction going on now with respect to trade" and had asked Mr Trump to "get involved".
"I like both leaders. I like President Moon, and you know how I feel about (Japanese) Prime Minister (Shinzo) Abe. He's a very special guy also," the US President added. "So if they need me, I'm there."
The row comes as tech companies around the world are already under pressure from a weakening global outlook, while the chip sector is particularly threatened by soft demand. Japanese and South Korean officials held hours of talks on July 12 to discuss the row, without sign s of a detente.
That meeting came after the US State Department promised to do "everything we can" to ease tensions between the two US allies.
All three countries face an increasingly assertive China and the long-running threat of nuclear-armed North Korea.
In South Korea, where almost seven in 10 people report negative feelings towards the country's former colonial ruler, the spat has even led beer lovers to boycott Japanese brews such as Asahi, Kirin, Sapporo and Suntory.
North Korea state media on Friday slammed Japan for "trying to destroy the trend of peace on the Korean peninsula".
The official Korean Central News Agency described Japan as its "sworn enemy", adding that the damage caused to Korean people during colonial rule "cannot be compensated even if the entire nation of Japan sacrifices itself".