STATE DEPARTMENT— The United States is hoping to help ease tensions between Japan and South Korea that could undermine regional unity on North Korea. South Korea's foreign minister cancelled a trip to Japan this week over a visit by Japanese government ministers to a controversial war shrine.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has said Japan and South Korea are central to containing North Korean aggression. So Washington is working to reduce tensions between Tokyo and Seoul.
"We believe that strong and constructive relations between countries in the region -- particularly our allies South Korea and Japan -- promote peace and stability and are in the interest of those countries and indeed of the United States," said Patrick Ventrell, Deputy State Department Spokesman.
South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-Se cancelled a trip to Tokyo this week after Japanese cabinet ministers visited a controversial war shrine.
The shrine honors Japanese war dead, including convicted war criminals. For Koreans, who lived under Japanese rule for decades, the shrine is a symbol of Japanese imperialism.
"Our government strongly urges the Japanese government to immediately stop its anachronistic action and take a responsible measure based on the correct knowledge of history so that it can restore trust from neighboring countries," Cho Tai-Young, spokesman, S. Korean Foreign Ministry.
Japan says the shrine visits were private.
"Each country has its own stance. So I do not believe that these sort of things should affect diplomacy between the countries," stated Yoshihide Suga, Chief cabinet secretary.
Michael Auslin is director of Japan Studies at the American Enterprise Institute. He says this relationship is one of Washington's biggest problems.
"There is a whole host of issues that we talk about at the most very basic level because Japan and Korea can't get together. And it's long overdue for us to get Tokyo and Seoul to work more closely," he said.
He says part of the problem is how Japan approaches its war-time past but both countries should look forward.
"They face the same threats: North Korea in the short term and quite frankly a significant challenge from China in the medium and long term. They must work better together," Auslin said.
Tokyo and Seoul are also at odds over the Liancourt Rocks -- small islands in the Sea of Japan that are currently controlled by South Korea.