‘Enemy’ photos come down as Kim moves to NSO

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‘Enemy’ photos come down as Kim moves to NSO

Kim Kwan-jin, South Korea’s former defense minister and newly appointed chief of the Blue House’s National Security Office (NSO), has built a reputation for his hawkish stance, particularly when it comes to his hard-line policies dealing with military shows of force by North Korea.

When he served as defense minister, he kept a series of photos of senior North Korean military generals, including Kim Jong-un, on his office desk to always keep in mind the existence of “the enemy of the state.”

However, Kim abandoned that longtime custom when he was appointed on June 1 as the head of the NSO, Korea’s top decision-making body in overall national defense affairs. The office is responsible not only for reining in provocations by Pyongyang, but also boosting inter-Korean affairs and diplomatic ties with neighboring countries.

Blue House officials confirmed yesterday that so far there were no photos of any North Korean commanders at Kim’s new office in the presidential complex.

According to the military, since Kim was promoted in April 2005 as a four-star general and the commander in charge of South Korea’s 3rd Field Army on the western front, he had always displayed in his office a series of photographs of high-ranking North Korean military generals.

Each time he was promoted, he also changed the photographs of his Northern counterparts as well, officials said.

When he served as the commander of the 3rd Field Army, he placed photos on his desk of Kim Kyok-sik, then the commander of North Korea’s 2nd Army Corps. And when Kim became chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and national defense minister, he replaced it with a photo of Kim Yong-chun, then the chief of the general staff of the North Korean army.

After North Korean leader Kim Jong-un took the helm in December 2011, Kim hung photos of Kim and Hwang Pyong-so, director of the General Political Bureau of the North Korean army.

The only time he did not display photos of North Korean military generals was from March 2008, when he was not named to a military post and stepped down as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, until November 2010, when he was inaugurated into Ministry of National Defense.

Visages of his North Korean “enemies” sat in his office for nine years and three months total.

But this year, when he moved his personal belongings to his new office in the Blue House on June 30, Kim did not bring his photographs of Kim Jong-un and Hwang Pyong-so, which he had previously displayed.

Because the photos were printed using the state’s budget, Kim returned them to the Defense Ministry, Seoul officials said.

This change in custom was possibly due to his change in role as the NSO chief, a Blue House official said.

“Unlike the defense minister, the NSO chief should deal not only with North Korea but also with the current affairs in [Japan, China, Russia and the United States],” the official said. “He can’t put his eyes only on North Korea anymore.”

But just as Kim has shifted his attention away from his old enemies, North Korea has also refocused its gaze toward the South’s new defense minister, Han Min-koo, its newest target of attack.

In a statement on Wednesday, the North’s official mouthpiece, the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea, called Han “the first target to be mowed,” an expression that the regime usually uses to refer to an attack on an individual.

BY HUH JIN, KIM HEE-JIN [heejin@joongang.co.kr]

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