Security team of a common colorKim Ki-jung, who stepped down from the second vice chief of the National Security Office less than two weeks after his appointment, is the key architect of President Moon Jae-in’s foreign and national security strategy. Because he was one of the important members in Moon’s presidential campaign five years ago, his exit was seen as a surprise.
Rumors spread about a power struggle inside the administration, a déjà vu of the fierce infighting between the “independent defense” faction and the Korea-U.S. “alliance” faction. But the Blue House said Kim resigned over rumors concerning his ethical issues. The rumors included that he groped several women, although it was never proven.
The key problem is that rumors surrounding nominees are not new. Although there were complaints made during the vetting process, they were ignored. This is the power of sharing the same political color. All members of the Moon’s national security and foreign affairs team actually share the same pattern and color as Kim.
All key officials, including the special adviser Moon Chung-in and National Intelligence Service head Suh Hoon, all promote talks with the North. This is clearly different from the Roh Moo-hyun team, where three top officials, Lee Jong-seok, Ra Jong-yil and Ban Ki-moon, had different voices. So it seems that Kim’s abrupt exit was not because of the difference in his color. It certainly is an ethics issue.
Kang Kyung-wha, Moon’s nominee to become the foreign minister, was also facing obstacles for her ethics breaches. The suspicion started with her usage of a fake address and expanded to tax evasion and plagiarism. But Moon still wants to push the appointment. That is not different from his decision with Kim, an ally. The decision appeared to be based on the belief that my allies are righteous and ethical, but others are corrupt and immoral. That is why the usage of a fake address is not such a decisive flaw for an ally. Forming a foreign and national security team, therefore, is not progressing smoothly, but Moon appeared to have no intention of stopping.
Park Sun-won, former unification policy secretary for the Roh Blue House, is being discussed as the successor of Kim. Other possible nominees also share the same color, and it is clear that the defense and unification ministers will be someone who will promote the importance of independent national defense.
The Moon government promised that confidantes won’t be hired for top posts because Moon didn’t want to repeat the failures of the Roh administration. But Suh Choo-suk, who argued for lessoning Korea’s heavy reliance on the United States, was named the vice minister of national defense. Park, who vowed to stay away from the new administration, is now being discussed to join the Blue House. Moon’s national security team quickly begins to resemble Roh’s team.
Many worry whether this team is capable of creating a breakthrough in the serious security crisis of the country. North Korea’s nuclear crisis has become a ticking time-bomb. Up to 10 nuclear arms will be operationally deployed before the end of this year.
Furthermore, the government has to handle a series of extremely thorny issues, including trade with the United States, China’s protest of the U.S. deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system in Korea and the “comfort women” issue with Japan. It is no surprise that Moon said “I am concerned about foreign affairs.” It is hard to create a breakthrough with an elite, bipartisan team, but Moon is now working with a team that is marred with ethics issues and ideological leanings.
Moon will have to have direct negotiations with U.S. President Donald Trump in the upcoming summit. Harmony is something we cannot expect from the two leaders. Trump won’t likely agree with the Blue House’s perception that Thaad is not an urgent issue.
Moon already vowed during the presidential campaign that he will try to rebalance the relations with the United States such as regaining the wartime operational control earlier than the agreement. When the pledges will become a policy, Moon and Trump will face a far more serious conflict than that of between the Roh and George W. Bush administrations.
Roh once asked, “What’s wrong with opposing the United States?” He conflicted with Bush, who was an out boxer and conceded a bit. But Trump is a relentless infighter. And Roh had Ban, a pro-U.S. diplomat, as his foreign minister.
Kang, however, doesn’t appear to be the next Ban, based on her testimonies in the confirmation hearing. Asked about her view on Thaad, she said she has not “grasped the issue fully.” She said the “comfort women” deal is not legally binding.
Korea needs a new face. A true all-star team should be formed on Moon’s vow to make fair appointments. Foreign affairs and national security are truly bipartisan issues.
If Moon insists on keeping Kang, that is a high-handed decision. The true concern, however, is that Moon will likely replace Kang with a true hardliner.
JoongAng Ilbo, June 9, Page 34
*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.