By Lee Chi-dong
WASHINGTON, Aug. 2 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's efforts to burnish its image have been stymied by concerns over its human trafficking record and handling of HIV-related restrictions on foreigners, multiple sources here said Thursday.
Seoul has staged a "Global Korea" campaign to raise its international profile.
The hosting of a G-20 economic summit in 2010 and the Nuclear Security Summit in March apparently shows South Korea's growing role in the international community.
Such diplomatic accomplishments, however, belie persistent worries over South Korea's handling of some human rights issues, according to the sources.
"The U.S. State Department had moved to downgrade South Korea into Tier 2 in the Trafficking in Persons Report released in June," an informed source said.
The Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons at the department cited a lack of progress in South Korea's fight against forced prostitution and forced labor, according to the source.
In the annual report, the department actually described South Korea as a "source, transit, and destination country for men and women subjected to forced prostitution and forced labor."
But it stopped short of lowering South Korea's rate to Tier 2 from Tier 1, accepting opinions by the Office of East Asian and Pacific Affairs that raised the possibility of a negative impact to Seoul-Washington relations, the source said.
State Department officials neither confirmed nor denied it.
"The Department does not publicly comment on the nature or content of internal discussions," an official said, asking not to be named.
The South Korean government is also facing the daunting task of breaking its image as a country discriminating against foreigners infected with HIV.
South Korea used to ban foreigns from visiting and migrating specifically on the basis of an HIV-positive status but it recently eased those restrictions.
Kim Bong-hyun, the deputy minister for multilateral and global affairs, flew to Washington last week to attend the International AIDS Conference and publicize Seoul's new approach.
"Deputy Minister Kim tried to show that South Korea respects the basic rights of people infected with HIV," another source said.
As Ban Ki-moon, formerly a South Korean foreign minister, serves as the U.N. secretary general and Korean-born Jim Yong Kim works as president of the World Bank, the source added, South Korean government officials are under more pressure to address concerns about Seoul's record on human trafficking and AIDS-related discrimination.
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