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South Korea foreign minister-nominee to seek talks on 2015 ‘comfort women’ deal

Kyodo, Staff Report

South Korea’s foreign minister-nominee, Kang Kyung-wha, said Wednesday she would seek talks with Japan to re-evaluate a controversial deal struck in 2015 over the “comfort women” issue.

In a parliamentary confirmation hearing, Kang said past history should be looked at squarely and not become an obstacle to bilateral relations with Japan.

“I will try to gather wisdom from the victims’ perspective and continue talks with Japan so that sincere measures will be taken,” said Kang, who was special adviser on policy for the United Nations’ secretary-general and has previously worked in South Korea’s Foreign Ministry.

“From a standpoint of a person who had been involved in human rights affairs at the U.N., I found (the deal) very strange in many aspects. Doubts linger over whether it was surely reached with a victims-oriented approach,” Kang said, according to Yonhap News Agency.

“It has become a reality that a majority of people here cannot accept (it) emotionally,” she said. “Still, it is also a reality that the deal exists, and it is an international practice to make good on such a deal.”

Kang also said she would try to forge substantive cooperation with Japan in such fields as diplomacy, security, economy and culture.

Tokyo and Seoul struck the landmark deal in December 2015 to “finally and irreversibly” resolve the long-standing row over the issue of “comfort women,” Japan’s euphemism for the young women and girls — many of them Koreans — who were forced to work in Japanese military brothels during and prior to World War II.

In accordance with the agreement, Tokyo disbursed last year ¥1 billion ($8.9 million) to a South Korean fund providing support for former comfort women and their families.

But new South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who took office on May 10, repeatedly pledged during his election campaign to renegotiate the agreement, which was reached under the administration of his predecessor Park Geun-hye. The deal has been criticized by some for not reflecting the voices of the affected women.

Also during the hearing, Kang expressed her views on North Korea’s nuclear program, saying, according to Yonhap, “the issue should be addressed as a top priority for the sake of realizing a peaceful peninsula as it directly threatens our survival. As a direct stake holder, we should make more active and leading efforts.

“First of all, (I) will sternly respond to the North’s provocations … and get more actively involved in global coordination through such resolutions by the U.N. Security Council to prevent the North from advancing its nuclear and missile programs, and carrying out additional provocations.”

Moon named Kang to head the Foreign Ministry last month. If confirmed for the post, she will be the country’s first female foreign minister.

Under South Korean laws, parliamentary endorsement is not mandatory for the foreign ministerial post.