Amid trade spat, South Korean President questions Japan's intentions

President Donald Trump speaks during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House on Thursday

"South Korea is a very wealthy nation that now feels an obligation to contribute to the military defense by the United States of America". "And the relationship is a very good one", Trump said.

In line with his position that US allies should pay more for their own defense, Trump has complained that maintaining troops in South Korea is too expensive and said he would like to bring them home.

Lee Sang-min, spokesman from South Korea's Unification Ministry, said North Korea's recent testing activity doesn't help efforts to stabilize peace and called for North Korea to uphold an inter-Korean agreement reached previous year to form a joint military committee to discuss reducing military tensions.

The row had raised concern that Trump might use it as an excuse to withdraw United States troops.

The intensity of missile test launches by North Korea has been unprecedented: it has conducted four tests over the past two weeks - on July 25 and 31, August 2 and 6.

Japan has approved export of a high-tech material to South Korea for the first time since imposing tighter curbs last month, but doubled down on political pressure and warned it could broaden restrictions on shipments to its Asian neighbour.

"If we're negotiating with the North Koreans while simultaneously demonstrating that we are shaky in our defense commitment to the South Koreans, that gives the North Koreans tremendous leverage", he said in a telephone interview.

"President Trump's administration strategy with respect to North Korea hasn't changed", he said.

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Currently, the forces of the United States and South Korea are joined in a structure called the Combined Forces Command, which formed in 1978.

Though many consider Trump an unconventional USA president, the former businessman has been consistent on this issue.

Experts say Trump's downplaying of the North's weapons displays allowed the country more room to advance its capabilities and build leverage ahead of negotiations, which could possibly resume sometime after the end of the allies' drills later this month.

Moreover, these are meant to be multi-year agreements, and last year just happened to be when it was up for re-negotiation.

US Defence Secretary Mark Esper, on his first tour of Asia, said during a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo that North Korea remained of great concern.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in said on Thursday (Aug 8) that tighter curbs would undermine Japan's worldwide credibility and accused Tokyo of using its industrial advantage as a weapon against another country.

Given the curbs in place, Japan's approval to export the three materials could take up to 90 days, slowing shipments.

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