President fills foreign affairs, security posts with diplomatic experts

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President fills foreign affairs, security posts with diplomatic experts

President Moon Jae-in’s newly formed foreign affairs and security team marks a departure from the past, shifting the North Korea command center from those with a military background to those with diplomatic experience.

Multilateral diplomacy expert Kang Kyung-wha was named as new foreign minister nominee Sunday, while another seasoned diplomat, former Ambassador to Geneva Chung Eui-yong, was named national security adviser to oversee the National Security Office of the Blue House.

But there is also concern that the new team does not have much experience dealing with North Korea, nor direct diplomacy backgrounds with the four major neighboring powers - namely the United States, China, Japan and Russia.

National Security Office chiefs under the Park Geun-hye administration, Kim Jang-soo and Kim Kwan-jin, both were former defense ministers. Similarly, Baek Jong-cheon, chief presidential national security adviser under the Roh Moo-hyun administration, came from a military background.

Kang, senior adviser on policy to UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, has served in key United Nations posts for over a decade but does not have experience in dealing directly with Korea’s major partners or handling the North Korea nuclear issue.

This team will have to deal with pending diplomatic and security issues, with North Korea’s increased nuclear and missile provocations as top priority.

It also faces continued opposition by China and Russia over the deployment of the U.S.-led Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or Thaad, antimissile system, possible renegotiation with the Donald Trump administration over the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement and finding common ground on the so-called comfort women deal with Tokyo over the issue of Japan’s wartime sexual slavery.

A senior foreign affairs official told the JoongAng Ilbo on Sunday, “It’s not a bad idea for appointments of diplomats to the post of the chief of the NSO, which was filled by those with military backgrounds in the previous administration. The new foreign minister, who is a multilateral diplomacy expert, would be able to widen the horizon of our diplomacy.”

Other Blue House officials have called to supplement the foreign affairs and security team with experts in these fields as well as those with military backgrounds in the future.

President Moon himself described national security and diplomacy as “two sides of the same coin,” and has stressed the importance of the role of diplomacy under the current North Korean nuclear crisis.

Kang, 62, said that while she does not have direct experience dealing with North Korea, she would use her experience within the United Nations to work toward resolving the nuclear issue.

“I view North Korea as the largest pending issue, and will do my best to resolve it,” Kang told reporters at John F. Kennedy International Airport Sunday returning to New York from Geneva.

She responded to questions on the fact that she doesn’t have experience in dealing with the North Korea nuclear issue, saying, “While I do not have direct experience in dealing with this, the North Korea nuclear issue has become more than just a Korean Peninsula problem and is an international one. We have often raised the issue at the United Nations. While I have not dealt with it directly, I have dealt with many issues and have gained much experience there.”

She said that after reporting to the UN secretary general, she plans on returning to Korea as soon as possible.

A Seoul native, Kang is a graduate of political science and diplomacy from Yonsei University and received her doctorate in intercultural communication from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. She formerly worked as an English-language announcer and producer for broadcaster KBS, an aide on international affairs to the National Assembly speaker, a lecturer of English literature at Sejong University and interpreter for the late former President Kim Dae-jung.

Kang joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade in 1998 as an international affairs expert rather than taking the traditional route for career diplomats by passing a state-administered exam. She served as aide to former Foreign Minister Hong Soon-young in 1999, then was posted at the South Korean permanent mission to the United Nations in 2001.

In 2005, Kang was named the ministry’s director-general of international organization as the second-ever Korean female diplomat to serve as a director-level official.

Since 2006, Kang served in key posts at the United Nations, including deputy high commissioner for human rights, deputy emergency relief coordinator of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and assistant secretary-general for humanitarian affairs. She also served on the UN Secretary General Guterres’ transition team and was named the new senior adviser on policy in December.

If she passes a parliamentary confirmation process, she will become Korea’s first female foreign minister, replacing top diplomat Yun Byung-se, who has served in the post since March 2013.

Also a Seoul native, Chung, head of the International Conference of Asian Political Parties (Icapp), served as a top foreign policy adviser to Moon’s campaign.

A diplomacy major at Seoul National University, he joined the Foreign Ministry in 1971. He previously served as a deputy head of the trade representative and served as ambassador to Israel.

As top diplomat to Geneva, he also served as the head of the International Labor Organization (ILO) and then as a lawmaker between 2004 and 2008.

Chung likewise emphasized unification policy, which has been put on the back burner under the Lee Myung-bak and Park Geun-hye administrations, and has called for Seoul to take lead to restore inter-Korean relations, emphasizing the military hotline should be restored quickly.

On Monday, Chung told National Assembly Speaker Chung Sye-kyun, “There is no difference between the ruling and opposition parties in diplomacy and security issues. I plan to closely communicate with the National Assembly in the future.”

He added in his meeting with Joo Ho-young, floor leader of the Bareun Party, “Our government’s message on the North Korea issue is clear: we will never allow the development of North Korea’s nuclear and missile program,” adding it will respond sternly to any further provocations following Pyongyang’s latest missile launch.”

However, he added that continued tension is “not desirable,” saying, “In order to alleviate such tension on the Korean Peninsula, inter-Korean dialogue is needed.”

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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