Foreign Ministry reshuffles to focus on China

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Foreign Ministry reshuffles to focus on China

The Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced it is reorganizing its key regional bureaus, including the Northeast Asian Affairs Bureau, in a move seen as increasing its focus on diplomacy with China while putting a lower priority on Japan affairs.

The current Northeast Asian Affairs Bureau’s first division deals with Japan and its second division handles China matters. Through the reshuffling, Japan will be removed from the Northeast Asian Affairs Bureau and instead grouped with India and Australia in a new Asia-Pacific bureau. The Asia-Pacific bureau will also deal with diplomacy between Korea, Japan and China. The reorganized Northeast Asian Affairs Bureau will focus on China, Mongolia, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau affairs.

Currently, the ministry’s Northeast Asian Affairs Bureau and South Asian and Pacific Affairs Bureau deal with the Asia-Pacific region. The existing South Asian and Pacific Affairs Bureau, with the removal of India, will now focus on relations with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean). This is in keeping with the Moon Jae-in government prioritizing its New Southern Policy, which aims to strengthen ties with Asean.

The ministry said that the reorganization proposal has been under review and that enforcement regulation revisions will take place over three days starting on Tuesday. After the reshuffle, there will now be three bureaus focusing on the Asia-Pacific region.

The ministry in a statement said that it hopes that the reshuffle “will be an opportunity to strengthen diplomacy with China, Japan and key countries in the Asia-Pacific region.”

Japanese diplomatic sources have expressed concern over the Korean Foreign Ministry’s decision, which they see as reducing the significance of Japan affairs. The reorganized Northeast Asian Affairs Bureau has been informally described in the media as “the China bureau.”

However, the reshuffling, according to foreign affairs officials in Seoul, comes amid an increased workload related to China affairs. The U.S. Donald Trump administration has pushed its Indo-Pacific strategy, reaching out to major U.S. partners in Asia - Japan, India and Australia.

Likewise, the Foreign Ministry pointed out that through the reorganization “diplomatic ability toward the four major countries will be bolstered, as different bureaus will be dealing with the United States, China, Japan and Russia.”

The ministry is also introducing a new division in charge of enforcing UN Security Council sanctions aimed at denuclearizing North Korea, reviewing sanctions related to inter-Korean projects and export controls.

Reorganization of the Foreign Ministry, which includes a review by the Ministry of Government Legislation and by the National Assembly, is expected to be completed by early May.

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