Washington has so far kept out the spat between its two closest allies in the Asia Pacific region.
As the Seoul-Tokyo spat over Japanese warplanes’ flights over South Korean Navy ships continues, eyes have turned to the possible intervention of the US in the escalating dispute between its two core allies in Asia.
While the US has been maintaining its silence on the issue, Harry Harris, the US ambassador to Korea, made an unannounced visit to the Ministry of National Defense to speak with Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo on Monday.
The Defense Ministry said the ambassador’s visit was previously planned as a New Year’s greeting, but added it could not reveal what was said, as it was a closed-door meeting.
Still, speculation is high that the two leaders might have discussed pending issues, including the military dispute between Seoul and Tokyo, during the talk that lasted about 1 hour and 20 minutes. They may also have talked about negotiations over Seoul’s sharing of the costs of stationing US troops in Korea.
The US ambassador also held a 15-minute meeting with Korea’s Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha later Monday.
Lt. Gen. Jerry Martinez, commander of the US Forces Japan, also reportedly met with Japanese Defense Minister Iwaya Takeshi on Tuesday afternoon for a courtesy visit. He was expected to speak about pending issues.
During a press conference earlier in the day, the Japanese minister had urged Korea to accept that its warplanes are flying according to international air regulations, according to a Japanese news report.
Takeshi also said he will seek “dialogue” with Korea to build trust, and hinted at his willingness to hold a high-level meeting.
Over a month has passed since the military spat began, when Tokyo accused Seoul’s naval warship of locking its weapons-targeting radar onto its warplane. Rejecting the allegation, Seoul fired back and criticized Tokyo for flying its maritime patrol aircraft too closely to the South Korean warship.