Lately, the Ministry of Unification has been troubled. As the presidential election approaches next month, officials are concerned that the administration change will disturb policy direction. There is a rumor among officials of a book listing who did what during the Lee Myung-bak administration and who will be weeded out in the next administration. The Unification Ministry is reacting especially sensitively because of the trauma it endured during the last administration change.
Five years ago, the Unification Ministry was nearly shut down by the presidential transition committee. The executives who were actively involved in the “Sunshine Policy” during the Kim Dae-joong and Roh Moo-hyun administrations were released from duty overnight. Director Jo Myeong-gyun, who had attended the inter-Korean summit meeting between President Roh Moo-hyun and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il in October 2007, was dispatched to serve at the Blue House at the time, and he was made into an example.
An official recalled, “One day, a high-ranking executive gave a lecture to the ministry workers and said we should not work with the rotten mentality of the previous administration. We were all stunned.” That very executive was in charge of North Korean policy during the Kim Dae-joong and Roh Moo-hyun administrations. A rumor spread among the officials that there was an order not to promote an executive who served as an aide to a powerful minister during the Roh Moo-hyun administration.
The Ministry of Unification and its officials were saved thanks to the opposition party, but it was not easy for them to devote themselves to the North Korean and unification policies of the Lee Myung-bak administration. They were on duty, but things were very different. The midlevel executives were used to the active execution of the “Sunshine Policy” from the early days of the Kim Dae-joong administration, arranging the summit meeting, inter-Korean exchanges and talks. They did not welcome the stalemate and were unable to hold a proper meeting.
The Unification Ministry reached a consensus that the ministry and its North Korean policy would not get swept up by politics. However, the ministry cannot be free from politics as the North Korean policy direction and the NLL controversies have become the focus of the presidential campaign. Those who served as unification minister during the Roh Moo-hyun administration joined the campaign camps one after another. As they declared their intention to bring back the “Sunshine Policy,” ministry officials are nervous about how it will affect them. One said, “Except for one or two, the ministers during the Kim and Roh administrations were not so loyal.” They cared more about their personal gain than the organization.
*The author is a deputy political and international news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Lee Young-jong