Wrong man for the jobA confirmation hearing for controversial Unification Minister nominee Kim Yeon-chul ended without a major challenge to his qualifications to head that important ministry. Despite attacks on him from both ruling and opposition lawmakers for a series of inappropriate remarks he posted on social media, Kim was able to dodge them with such expressions of remorse as “I deeply regret,” and “I am sorry.” He also stepped back from his earlier argument that North Korea’s sinking of our Cheonan warship and shelling of the Yeonpyeong Islands in 2010 were just accidents.
Though the nominee may have avoided a rout, we are disappointed at the way he changed his position. The fact that he made controversial remarks for which he barely takes responsibility raises serious doubts about his qualifications as a top government official handling inter-Korean issues. An individual’s nature, which is reflected in their words and actions, does not easily change. As the opposition claims, we wonder whether he was simply pretending to regret what he said before.
The bigger concern comes from his ideology. As a scholar, Kim repeatedly made shocking remarks. He even called the 2008 murder of a South Korean tourist in Mount Kumgang a “rite of passage” for the reunification of this divided land. That’s not all: he has persistently been denying the effects of economic sanctions on North Korea, as seen in his vehement criticism of the May 24, 2010, sanctions imposed on North Korea by the conservative Lee Myung-bak administration after the Cheonan sinking. “Those are stupid sanctions,” he said.
What will happen if a minister armed with such lopsided convictions administers our unification policies? He will most likely end up offering hefty aid to North Korea without any strings attached. This could be the primary reason the liberal administration wanted him in that position.
As a scholar, Kim can make arguments based on his convictions. But it’s a different story if he serves as a decision-maker tackling thorny inter-Korean challenges. A unification minister requires a balanced approach.
As such, it is not right for President Moon Jae-in to appoint such a skewed person as the chief of our unification policy. What will happen if the Blue House pushes his appointment when the international community is increasingly united on the sanctions front — united against our own softness? The South Korea-U.S. alliance will break apart: Moon must reconsider his appointment if he really wants to put denuclearization talks back on track.
JoongAng Ilbo, March 27, Page 34