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Minister to confront Japan in speech at U.N. assembly

Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan is expected to raise the issue of Japan’s wartime sexual enslavement Friday at the U.N. General Assembly for the first time.

“The minister will refer to the importance of proper recognition of history and women’s human rights during wartime, though details are yet to be confirmed,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Cho Tai-young told reporters Thursday.

Three Asian powers are engaging in a diplomatic quarrel at the U.N. meeting in New York as Korean and Chinese diplomats gear up to counter Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s claim over remote islands that have fueled anti-Japan protests in the two countries.

Noda stressed the escalating tension should be resolved peacefully and according to the rule of law in his address on Wednesday.

The prime minister called for international litigation as a way out, reiterating Tokyo’s proposal to take the row to the International Court of Justice over South Korean islets of Dokdo in the East Sea. He also decried any attempts to use force, apparently targeting anti-Japan riots in China that inflicted damage on the plants of companies such as Toyota, Honda and Panasonic.

Foreign Minister Kim and his Chinese counterpart, Yang Jiechi, are fine-tuning their speeches scheduled for Thursday and Friday, respectively.

Kim is expected to address historical issues comprehensively without directly identifying Japan or Dokdo by the name so as to avoid a diplomatic clash before world leaders.

But his remarks would carry thinly veiled pressure for Tokyo to withdraw its assertion over Dokdo, face up to history and settle the so-called comfort women issue, according to Seoul officials. “The keynote address is difficult to be seen as a venue for bilateral topics,” Cho added.

Another variable is envisioned talks between Kim and Japanese Foreign Minister, Koichiro Gemba, on Thursday in New York. They last met early this month on the sidelines of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Vladivostok, Russia.

Up to 200,000 women, largely Koreans, were forced into sexual slavery for Japanese troops during World War II, historians say.

Tokyo has admitted that it used sex slaves in front-line brothels but insists that the issue was already resolved via a 1965 indemnity pact between the two countries. Seoul, in contrast, argues that the victims are entitled to pursue compensation both on government and individual bases.

Meanwhile, Beijing’s Yang is likely to sharpen his tone, given the Sino-Japanese dispute over the Senkaku or Diaoyu Islands in East China Sea is creeping ever closer to a boiling point.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang slammed Noda’s comments, saying they neglected historical casts and international laws.

“The country concerned must face up to history and earnestly abide by international legal principles, and cease all actions that infringe the territorial integrity and sovereignty of other countries,” he said in a statement on Thursday.

The Japanese government’s purchase of the islands from private owners early this month set off massive riots across China. Japanese companies there also including Nissan and Hitachi are being threatened with boycotts and downsizing output.

Their bilateral relations plunged to the lowest level in years on Tuesday after Japanese and Taiwanese coast guard ships exchanged water cannons in waters near the islands. Taiwan also claims them.

In an apparent move to mend ties, Yang and Gemba had a meeting on Tuesday in New York. Tokyo also sent Chikao Kawai, vice foreign minister, to Beijing for talks with his counterpart, Zhang Zhijun, the same day.

By Shin Hyon-hee (
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Korea Herald daum