The president’s many challengesSeoul has experienced some serious setbacks in its foreign affairs and security policies, particularly with its multibillion-dollar KF-X jet program. Washington has refused to transfer four key technologies from Lockheed Martin needed to build the indigenous fighter jets despite appeals from the government. The United States has never allowed the transfer of key aeronautic technologies to any other countries, including Japan and Australia, its closest allies. Seoul should have factored this in when it proceeded with its plans.
Defense authorities said they were informed of the final decision in April, though the Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) and the Ministry of National Defense alerted the Blue House two months later. But the presidential office failed to control the situation, with defense officials insisting negotiations were possible with the United States.
Washington, however, remained consistent in its stance. Yet the defense minister still accompanied President Park Geun-hye on her visit last week to Washington to make another appeal - only for it to be rejected once again.
Seoul is entirely to blame for the confusion. National Security Adviser Kim Kwan-jin served as the defense minister when Lockheed Martin’s F-35 fighters were chosen as the prototype for Korea’s next-generation fighter jets, so it would be wise for the president to look into whether Kim and Defense Minister Han Min-koo did their jobs as best they could.
The latest reshuffle is designed to prepare the president for the latter half of her five-year term. But Deputy Prime Ministers Choi Kyung-hwan and Hwang Woo-yea were excluded even though they plan to run in next election because they must wind up the labor reform agenda and make modifications to the policy on history textbooks. Park’s team will be ready once she finalizes the two most high-profile replacements.
Still, the government must continue to make moves on other pressing issues. North Korea poses growing challenge and Seoul must make a decision on whether to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The president faces strong resistance to the plan to restore state authority over school history textbooks, while the National Assembly is also mired in disputes around open primaries and electoral constituencies. Park must face these challenges with a cool head in order to avoid becoming a lame duck.
JoongAng Ilbo, Oct. 21, Page 34