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Korean Gender Minister nominee blasted for views on sex slavery deal

South Korea's Gender Equality Minister nominee Kang Eun-hee was lambasted by opposition lawmakers for her views on the recent ROK-Japan sex slavery settlement during her confirmation hearing at the National Assembly on Thursday.

The former IT businesswoman and Saenuri Party lawmaker described the settlement between the two nations as “an outcome that came out as a result of South Korean government’s utmost efforts” during the session.

The agreement has been criticized for not clearly admitting Tokyo’s legal responsibility for the institutionalized sex slavery of women during World War II. 
Gender Minister nominee Kang Eun-hee speaks during her confirmation hearing at the National Assembly in Seoul on Thursday. Yonhap
Gender Minister nominee Kang Eun-hee speaks during her confirmation hearing at the National Assembly in Seoul on Thursday. Yonhap

“I understand that not everyone may be satisfied with the settlement,” she said, when she was asked by Rep. Nam In-soon of the main opposition Minjoo Party of Korea if she agreed with the government that women’s rights in Korea took a “major step forward” with the settlement.

“Considering that Tokyo admitted the military’s involvement in the slavery, and that Japan offered its state funds for the establishment of a foundation to support victims, I think the settlement is a great step forward.”

Earlier this week, the main opposition party demanded the Seoul government to renegotiate last month’s agreement with Tokyo, criticizing the Park administration for not discussing the matter with the victims before finalizing the deal.

During the session, Kang said it was also important to “understand Japan’s position in the situation,” and that President Park Geun-hye has accomplished something “very brave” through the settlement. Kang also described the agreement as something that could not have been achieved by any previous South Korean government.

To this, Rep. Lim Su-kyung said Kang’s views on the settlement prove that she has failed to empathize with the victims.

“If the Gender Equality Minister cannot empathize with the victims of sex slavery and their pain, what can she really do for any women in this country?” she said.

Kang has also supported Park’s controversial plan to replace middle and high school history textbooks with a single state-authored option in 2017. She has been serving on the Saenuri Party’s special committee to implement the textbook reform.

During the confirmation hearing, Kang was asked by Rep. Nam In-soon if she planned to describe the recent settlement as an achievement that took a major step forward for justice and human rights.

“I will have to see if Tokyo properly follows through on its promises,” Kang said.

A graduate of Kyungpook University’s physical education program, Kang worked as a school teacher before founding her IT venture, Winitech, in Daegu in the late 1990s. She served as the CEO of the company for more than 10 years, and is currently the company’s biggest shareholder.

Opposition lawmakers asked Kang to submit documents showing the company’s performance on gender equality, such as how many women workers had been hired and how many had been granted paternity or maternity leave. 

However, Kang had refused to submit the documents until Thursday morning, claiming they were confidential. She agreed to give the requested information during the morning session of the hearing, when lawmakers called her irresponsible for not cooperating with their requests.

Meanwhile, Lee Joon-sik, who has been nominated as Education Minister and Deputy Prime Minister for Social Affairs, also attended a confirmation hearing on Thursday. 

Lee, a former professor at Seoul National University’s School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, also said the recent settlement on sex slavery was an “outcome that came out as a result of the South Korean government’s utmost efforts.” 

The former professor also said he thinks positively of the state history textbooks written during late President Park Chung-hee’s military regime, claiming the books “successfully combined research findings by historians and nationalistic values and perspectives.”

During the session it was revealed that his second daughter, a former dual U.S.-South Korean citizen born in California in 1985, borrowed interest-free loans from Korean government entities for her university tuition even after giving up her Korean citizenship in 2007. 

Lee apologized during the hearing and explained that, as a dual citizen, his daughter automatically lost her Korean citizenship when she became 22. He said his daughter was willing to give up her U.S. citizenship and retrieve her Korean one.

He was also asked about how her daughter, who was only 29 years old last year, purchased an apartment in Seoul that cost about 1 billion won ($834,724), when she had only worked as a resident at a general hospital for a few years. 

Lee was accused of purchasing the property under his daughter’s name as a gift and evading gift tax in doing so. The nominee denied the accusations, claiming that both his daughter and her husband, who are both currently based in Hong Kong, have been employed as a physician and a banker for quite a while.

By Claire Lee (