A crucial reinvention

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A crucial reinvention

The new head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Kim Sung-hwan, stepped into his post last week with a heavy load on his shoulders.

Kim is charged with the task of reinventing the ministry after a nepotism scandal tarnished its image and eroded its credibility. The new foreign minister must also refocus the country’s diplomatic efforts and strengthen the overall capabilities of the ministry, in preparation for unexpected challenges and events in the world arena.

Embarrassingly, Korea was without diplomatic leadership during the recent United Nations General Assembly and the Asia-Europe Meeting, as the government scrambled to replace former Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan, who resigned amid controversy over the ministry’s move to hire his daughter.

Preparations for the largest diplomatic event in Korea’s history — the November G-20 Summit — also took a step backward because of the turmoil. As a result, officials at the ministry have been keeping a low profile as their employer comes under fire for corruption and elitism.

The new minister must act swiftly to get the ministry back on track. His most urgent task, of course, is to make sure the G-20 meeting next month goes off without a hitch. World leaders will assemble in Seoul for the meeting, bringing the international spotlight with them. Any slip up during the event would undoubtedly hurt the country’s image and status.

The meeting will test our diplomatic prowess and determine whether we are ready to exercise the kind of high-level leadership needed to bridge the gap between advanced and emerging economies. The event can also serve as a stepping stone for the nation to join the ranks of the world’s advanced countries.

Kim must then revamp the ministry’s appointment and recruitment practices and procedures. Ministry staff has had to deal with constant complaints over unfair recruitment and promotion practices. Dissatisfaction is widespread.

The new minister is familiar with the environment at the ministry, given that he worked there before. He understands both the merits and shortcomings of the ministry, and this knowledge should serve as an engine for reform rather than a brake.

On a global scale, Kim must also find new ways to cement ties with the United States and China, and he will have to prepare the nation for the impending power transfer in North Korea.

With all these geopolitical risks and challenges in mind, the country must be competent and shrewd when it comes to diplomacy.
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