Kang must step downPresident Moon Jae-in has defined the controversial leak of his phone conversation with U.S. President Donald Trump as an issue that can shake the foundations of the government. If so, he should have held both the diplomat in question — who relayed details of the two leaders’ conversation to an opposition lawmaker — and his boss, Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha, responsible for the leaks. Yet Kang seems to be safe as head of our Foreign Ministry. The government plans to wrap up the case by simply penalizing senior diplomats in our embassy in Washington.
Since Kang took office in 2017, the Foreign Ministry has been repeatedly attacked for diplomatic fumbles involving protocol and other issues — for instance, displaying a wrinkled Korean flag during a bilateral meeting in Spain, diplomats’ continuous abuse of power and sexual harassment of local staffers in foreign countries. Whenever such shameful episodes took place, Kang vowed they would not be repeated. Yet embarrassments come one after another. All of them reveal serious problems with Kang’s ability to control her subordinates in the ministry.
A bigger concern relates to Kang’s competence as a diplomat. Korea’s diplomacy faces a colossal crisis, as seen in the worst-ever Seoul-Tokyo relations. That’s not the only troubled relation. The Foreign Ministry is helpless even after Beijing recently canceled Chinese President Xi Jinping’s planned visit to South Korea despite our government’s persistent efforts to invite him.
Even if the Blue House takes the helm of our diplomatic relations, that would not exempt Kang from her obligations as foreign minister. Yet we have never heard that she tried to reflect her voice in establishing strategies for our foreign policy based on any kind of precise assessment of the situations on the diplomatic frontlines or close communications with our diplomats. The Blue House has been sending President Moon’s aides without any diplomatic qualifications to foreign countries as ambassadors.
Opponents at home and abroad increasingly criticize Kang for a critical lack of presence in the ministry. Many expressed concerns about her lack of a strategic mind or expertise in diplomacy even before she took office. Unfortunately, she has failed to assuage such concerns over the past two years. The public cannot understand why President Moon still trusts her. The time has come for Kang to reflect on how she has been doing as foreign minister and make a wise decision.