Moon nominates a woman as foreign minister, a first for Korea

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Moon nominates a woman as foreign minister, a first for Korea

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From left: Kim Dong-yeon, Kang Kyung-wha, Chung Eui-yong [YONHAP]

President Moon Jae-in announced his nominees for top economic and foreign affairs cabinet posts and the Blue House secretariat, naming veteran civil servant Kim Dong-yeon as deputy prime minister for the economy and finance minister and senior United Nations diplomat Kang Kyung-wha as foreign minister.

Kang will be Korea’s first woman foreign minister, if she passes a confirmation hearing.

In a press conference, Moon announced the appointments and praised his nominees.

“The new government was launched at a time of unprecedented low growth, wealth disparities and a crisis for people’s basic livelihoods,” Moon said. “Overcoming this crisis, creating jobs and energizing the economy are the most important tasks of the government. Comprehensive crisis management and a driving force were my most important consideration when selecting the deputy prime minister for the economy.”

Moon said he has no personal connection to Kim, but has strong faith in his capabilities.

“He started as a boy wonder and rose from a shanty town in Cheonggyecheon [in central Seoul] to become vice finance minister and minister of government policy coordination,” Moon said. “I believe he is a person who can sympathize with the hardships of the ordinary people.”

The president said Kim’s abilities were proven by his holding various key posts in the finance ministry, describing him as “well-respected in political circles, academia and industry.”

Moon also appointed Jang Ha-sung, a professor of business administration at Korea University and an activist against inequality and opaque management by Korea’s family-run conglomerates, to the newly created position of chief of staff for policy.

“I believe he is the best person to change the chaebol-friendly economic paradigm to benefit the public and small companies in order to push forward economic democracy, income-led growth and people-oriented growth,” Moon said.

Kim Kwang-doo, a professor at Sogang University — known as the economics tutor of Moon’s conservative predecessor Park Geun-hye — was named vice chairman of the National Economic Advisory Council. Describing Kim as an economist who represents reform-minded conservatives, Moon admitted that he has a rather different view of politics and the economy from his own.

“But I believe the pragmatic liberals and reform-minded conservatives must work together to tackle economic issues,” Moon said. “We can do it when we make the people’s lives our main priority.”

Moon, then, announced his foreign affairs and security aides. He said he chose Kang as foreign minister for her professional expertise and networks in the international diplomatic community after serving in key UN posts since 2006. “I also believe it is very meaningful from the perspective of gender equality in my cabinet,” Moon said.

Kang, who will be the first non-career diplomat to become foreign minister, held several top positions at the United Nations such as senior advisor on policy to the current UN Secretary-General António Guterres. Her background is in academia, and she lacks experiences in bilaterally dealing with major countries such as the United States, China and Japan and also North Korea.

Former Ambassador to Geneva Chung Eui-yong, a top foreign policy advisor to Moon’s campaign, was named national security adviser to oversee the National Security Office of the Blue House. The appointment marked a major shift: Moon’s predecessor Park Geun-hye hired senior military officials as her national security advisors.

“In the previous administration, national security was treated with a narrow view on defense,” Moon said. “But I think national security and diplomacy are two sides of a coin. And the role of diplomacy is more important for our national security amid the current North Korea nuclear crisis.”

Moon said the national security advisor needed diplomatic capabilities in order to deal with overlapping security, foreign affairs and economic issues such as the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) missile shield controversy and free trade agreements.

Moon Chung-in, an honorary professor at Yonsei University, and Hong Seok-hyun, former ambassador to the United States and chairman of the Korean Peninsula Forum, were named special advisors for foreign affairs, national security and unification.

Last week, Moon dispatched Hong to the United States to serve as a special envoy to meet U.S. President Donald Trump and other top officials.

Confirmation hearings at the National Assembly are required for Kim and Kang to join Moon’s cabinet. Moon’s prime-minister-nominee, Lee Nak-yon, will go through confirmation hearings this week.

The Blue House also made a preemptive move on Sunday to defend Moon’s decision to name Kang, although it discovered possible problems in her past during its vetting process.

Kang’s daughter is a U.S. citizen but promised to obtain Korean citizenship, the Blue House said. Kang also has an issue of using a fake address for the daughter’s high school admission. Moon still decided to name Kang as the new foreign minister because of her diplomatic capabilities.

BY SER MYO-JA ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr

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