South Korea's military drills on its easternmost islets of Dokdo were "not productive" in the country's current row with Japan, the U.S. State Department said Tuesday.
The comment comes a day after South Korea concluded a two-day exercise on and around Dokdo, drawing protests from Japan, which lays claims to the islets.
In a statement, a department spokesperson said Washington does not take a position in the territorial dispute but regards the drills as unhelpful in light of the two countries' ongoing dispute over trade and wartime forced labor.
"The question of the sovereignty of these islands is for the ROK and Japan to resolve peacefully," the spokesperson said on condition of anonymity, referring to South Korea by its official name, the Republic of Korea.
"Given the recent disagreements between the ROK and Japan, the timing, messaging, and increased scale of military drills at Liancourt Rocks are not productive toward resolving ongoing issues," the spokesperson continued, using the Franco-English name for the rocky outcroppings in the East Sea.
"We encourage the ROK and Japan to have committed, sincere discussions on resolving these disputes," added the spokesperson.
South Korea began the drills just three days after it announced its decision to withdraw from a military intelligence-sharing pact with Japan, citing Tokyo's refusal to resolve their trade row through dialogue.
Washington expressed "strong concern" and "disappointment" over the decision, saying the deal's termination would complicate efforts to defend Korea and increase risk to U.S. forces stationed there.
The trade dispute stems from Japan's decision in early July to curb exports of sensitive materials to South Korea in what Seoul views as retaliation for South Korean court rulings on compensation for Japan's wartime forced labor.
Japan ruled the Korean Peninsula as a colony from 1910-45.
Tokyo has protested that all matters of compensation were settled under a 1965 treaty that normalized bilateral ties, but Seoul has maintained that the deal does not cover individual claims. (Yonhap)