Moon faces pressure to sack foreign, defense ministers

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Moon faces pressure to sack foreign, defense ministers

Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo, left, and Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha, center, listen to Democratic Party Chairman Lee Hae-chan's remarks at the meeting with the party leaders.  [YONHAP]

Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo, left, and Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha, center, listen to Democratic Party Chairman Lee Hae-chan's remarks at the meeting with the party leaders. [YONHAP]

President Moon Jae-in faced growing calls from both the ruling and opposition parties on Thursday to replace all foreign affairs and national security aides in the cabinet and the Blue House for their failed policy recommendations on North Korea.
 
“It is imperative that we find the people bold enough to support President Moon’s inter-Korean cooperation vision,” Rep. Kim Doo-kwan of the ruling Democratic Party (DP) said Thursday in a Facebook message. “It is unfortunate the [Unification] Minister Kim Yeon-chul had to offer resignation. But cabinet members who failed to support the president’s vision must assume responsibility, no matter who they are.”
 
Unification Minister Kim offered his resignation Wednesday, one day after North Korea razed a liaison office of the two Koreas located inside the Kaesong Industrial Complex and warned of further military provocations.  
 
Other DP members said Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha and Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo must also be sacked. Chung Dong-young, former unification minister of the Roh Moo-hyun administration, said in a radio interview Thursday that a cabinet reshuffle can be a way to turn around the current situation. “The resignation of one person, the unification, is too weak to turnaround the situation,” he said.  
 
DP Rep. Min Hong-chul, newly elected chairman of the National Defense Committee of the National Assembly, also said Thursday that the current ministers must be replaced as they produced no tangible outcomes.  
 
“They were too naïve,” Rep. Hong Ik-pyo of the DP said. “They also misjudged the U.S. position about the North-U.S. summit in Hanoi. "It is time to reshuffle the entire foreign affairs and national security offices.”  
 
The DP invited the foreign and defense ministers and the vice minister of unification to discuss the current situation. In an opening statement at the meeting, DP’s leaders did not hesitate to rebuke them.
 
“The anti-Pyongyang leaflet issue was an easy task, but the responsible ministers failed to do it,” said Rep. Kim Tae-nyeon, floor leader of the DP, referring to the government's failure to prevent activist groups from sending propaganda leaflets across the demilitarized zone and angering the North.
 
“In a situation of high uncertainty, the government must be wary of sloth,” said Kim. “You can lose everything by one misjudgment. We want the best alertness toward the North and best diplomatic responses.”  
 
After the meeting, Foreign Minister Kang did not respond to reporters asking if there will be a reshuffle.  
 
Defense Minister Jeong said media must not fuel the people’s uneasiness. “We are watching the situation 24 hours. When the time comes to inform the people, the military will,” Jeong said.  
 
Opposition parties said a larger reshuffle is necessary. Not only the foreign, defense and unification ministers but also National Intelligence Service Director Suh Hoon and the Blue House’s Director of National Security Chung Eui-yong must be sacked, they argued, for having failed to grasp the situation until the North actually took the extreme measure of demolishing the liaison office on Tuesday.  
 
Singling out Chung, Suh and the three ministers, People’s Party Chairman Ahn Cheol-soo said Thursday that “We need sane people in their posts.”  
 
Rep. Kang Dae-sik of the United Future Party (UFP) also urged Moon to make a bold decision. “He should hold the foreign affairs and security aides accountable for wrongly assisting him,” Kang said.  
 
The Blue House is reacting carefully. Unification Minister Kim tendered his resignation on Wednesday, but Moon was still sitting on it as of Thursday.
 
Moon hosted a luncheon with former top North Korea policymakers in the Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun administrations on Wednesday to listen to their advice. A participant recommended sacking the responsible aides, but Moon did not respond, Park Jie-won, who attended the meeting, told the JoongAng Ilbo. Park was former President Kim’s special envoy to the North to arrange the historic inter-Korean summit in 2000.  
 
Some DP officials said they have told the Blue House of the need for a reshuffle, but the president was reluctant to change all aides en masse amid the current situation.  
 
“If you hire someone new, it is also a message to the North,” a presidential official told the JoongAng Ilbo. “This is a matter we must act on extremely carefully.”  
 
BY SHIM SAE-ROM, SER MYO-JA   [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]  
 
 

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