President Moon Jae-in's nominee for foreign minister is expected to review the issue of Japan's wartime sexual enslavement of Korean women in light of her expertise in human rights, a senior official of the policy advisory panel said Wednesday, hinting that a renegotiation could take place on a controversial deal reached between South Korea and Japan.
On Sunday, Kang Kyung-wha was tapped to lead the foreign ministry. Kang, who has served as a special advisor on policy to the U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, is to return home to prepare for a confirmation hearing likely to happen in mid-June.
She is known for her expertise on human rights as she once worked as the deputy high commissioner for human rights at the U.N.
"She is an expert on human rights so when she comes, (I) expect her to review the comfort women issue from that perspective and come up with good measures," said Kim Ki-jung, a college professor who is heading the diplomatic and security affairs subcommittee at the panel.
He made the remarks to reporters seeking comments on the issue during a break from the foreign ministry's report on its policy direction to the panel, a de facto transition team for the Moon government.
Moon took office without any transition period following a May 9 election prompted by the ouster of Park Geun-hye from office due to a massive corruption scandal.
Comfort women refer to the victims, mostly Korean women, who were forced into frontline brothels for Japanese troops before and during World War II. Japan ruled Korea during from 1910-45.
The wartime atrocities have been a thorny issue between South Korea and Japan. In late 2015, the two reached a deal to resolve the long-running dispute once and for all. Under the deal, Tokyo expressed an apology and agreed to donated 1 billion yen (US$9.97 million) to a foundation dedicated to help the victims.
It still has ignited protests in Korea with critics doubting the sincerity of Japan's apology and claiming that it was hastily arranged without sufficiently seeking the opinions of victims. They called for its nullification.
Demand for renegotiation or nullification of the deal appears to be gaining traction.
In a telephone conversation with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe after his inauguration, Moon made clear that most South Koreans cannot accept it emotionally. Earlier, the U.N. Committee against Torture issued a report calling into question whether the deal was enough to help and support the victims with indelible scars.
Asked whether renegotiation could start on the deal, Kim didn't provide a direct answer but said that it is time to conduct a policy review and the review will be carried out through discussion between the panel and the ministry.
"We are just listening to what preparations the ministry is making," he noted. (Yonhap)