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FM nominee calls for humanitarian aid to North Korea despite tension

Foreign Minister nominee Kang Kyung-wha on Thursday called for humanitarian assistance to North Korea irrespective of the political situation, while stressing the need for stronger sanctions in the event of additional provocations.

The former UN diplomat also said she is keen to meet with the victims of the Japanese military’s sexual enslavement during World War II, which has beleaguered relations between the two countries.

“In fact, I reached out to one of them when I was here on vacation last time but could not meet her because she fell ill, but I will definitely go if I get the chance,” Kang said, when reporters asked if she would visit the sex slavery victims.

Foreign Minister nominee Kang Kyung-wha (Yonhap)
Foreign Minister nominee Kang Kyung-wha (Yonhap)

Kang, 62, made her first appearance as the minister nominee at her temporary office in Seoul to be briefed by ministry officials and prepare for an upcoming parliamentary hearing.

She formerly served in senior posts at the UN, including special policy adviser to Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, assistant secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and deputy high commissioner for human rights.

Her yearslong focus on human rights at the agency boosts expectations for her future role in resolving Seoul’s dilemma over the “comfort women” issues, which the UN has been addressing as a subject of women’s human rights in armed conflict.

Many of the victims and South Koreans reject the December 2015 settlement under which the Japanese government provided an apology and 1 billion yen ($9 million) for a fund set up in Seoul for the women. Earlier this month, the UN Committee against Torture recommended the deal be revised in order to provide the survivors with redress, including the right to compensation and rehabilitation as well as the right to truth, reparation and assurances of non-repetitions.

President Moon Jae-in pledged to renegotiate it on the campaign trail. He will now have to craft ways to help the victims end their fight without denting ties with the nation’s key economic and security partner by upending the deal.

“When she takes office, as a human rights expert, she would be able to review the comfort women issues and come up with good ideas,” Kim Ki-jung, the newly appointed deputy chief of the National Security Office in charge of foreign affairs, told reporters Wednesday.

Upon her arrival here, Kang also emphasized the significance of a principled approach toward humanitarian aid for North Korea. Given the series of missile launches, however, “more powerful sanctions” may also be necessary for additional provocations, she said.

“Humanitarian assistance should be provided, apart from political consideration, because it is a universal value of mankind that we should help suffering people,” the Foreign Minister nominee said at Incheon Airport earlier in the day.

“That’s the principle of the UN and I think it’s a right one.”

If approved by the National Assembly, Kang will become the country’s first female top diplomat. She also worked at the ministry, including as director-general for international organizations and at Seoul’s mission to the UN.

While her designation was met with cheers from younger diplomats who give her credit for her reasonable work style and “soft power” leadership, skeptics have pointed to her lack of experience in pressing issues such as North Korea, the security alliance with the US, and China and Japan affairs.
“The North Korean nuclear program is an issue of not only the Korean Peninsula but the international community, and has been dealt with at the UN many times,” Kang said.

“I personally was able to observe and learn about the issues during my three years as the interpreter for President (Kim Dae-jung).”

By Shin Hyon-hee (heeshin@heraldcorp.com)
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