FM designate calls for S. Korea’s active and leading role on N.K. issue

SEOUL-- South Korea should play a more "active" and "leading" role as a stake holder in handling North Korea's nuclear problem, President Moon Jae-in's pick for foreign minister said Wednesday.

Kang Kyung-wha told a confirmation hearing that she will "sternly" deal with any provocation by the North while getting actively involved in international efforts to rein in Pyongyang's evolving nuclear and missile capabilities.

"The North's nuclear issue should be addressed as a top priority for the sake of realizing a peaceful peninsula as it directly threatens our survival," Kang told lawmakers. "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," she added.

Kang still emphasized that sanctions and pressure should be pursued as a means aimed at inducing the North's denuclearization, saying that she intends to seek efforts to resume talks with the reclusive state at the same time.

As for a controversial deal signed in 2015 with Japan on the comfort women issue, Kang said that the victims should be at the center of any discussion, saying that she will seek "sincere" measures to be taken through talks with Japan.

Under the deal, the two neighbors agreed to "finally and irreversibly" resolve the long-running dispute over Japan's wartime sexual slavery of Korean women, with Tokyo expressing an apology for its colonial-era atrocities and agreed to contribute 1 billion yen (US$9.97 million) to a foundation dedicated to supporting the victims.

Critics, however, doubt the sincerity of the apology as Japan refused to recognize its legal responsibility for the forced mobilization of the women. They also criticized the deal for being hastily arranged without sufficiently seeking the opinions of victims.

"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. "It has become a reality that a majority of people here cannot accept (it) emotionally."

Kang noted that it is also a reality that the deal exists and that it is an international practice to make good on such a deal, pointing to a challenge in handling the issue related to what was agreed upon under the previous government.

She still took issue with it, saying that words like "finally" and "irreversibly" are rarely used in diplomacy and mostly found in military agreements and that there is no clear explanation by Japan about the nature of its promised money.

She apparently referred to the criticism that Japan intentionally avoided its legal responsibility by not clarifying the money as compensation for the hardship of the victims.

Kang emphasized that the 2015 deal is "not legally binding."

Kang said that she will do her utmost to strengthen communication and make sure there is "procedural legitimacy" in enforcing policies.

Known for her expertise in human rights and assistance programs at the U.N. for the past decade, Kang was tapped to lead the foreign ministry under the Moon Jae-in government, which took office May 10.

If confirmed, Kang will be the first woman to lead South Korea's foreign ministry and the first case in 14 years in which the ministry is headed by a person who didn't start as a career diplomat. Parliamentary approval, however, is not mandatory for her to start duties.

Source: Yonhap News Agency

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