No expertise, no job
The author is a columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
Even though Korea did not hold confirmation hearings, many talented people turned down offers of top government posts. Former Korea University President Kim Jun-yop is a case in point. During the Chun Doo Hwan regime, Kim — an independence fighter and a renowned historian on Communism — was pushed out from the university president post after defending students and professors against the authoritarian president. Chun’s successors later tried to recruit Kim as the prime minister, but he turned down all offers and stayed a scholar.
Contrary to such an example, we see many people with significant flaws trying to work in top posts. Former Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha, who recently declared her bid to head the International Labor Organization (ILO), is an example. Her critical weakness is that she has no experience in the field. After studying political science, international relations and communications, she worked as an announcer, interpreter and professor before serving as an official at the United Nations and later as foreign minister. When she was a diplomat and a UN employee, she had no opportunity to gain professional experience in labor issues.
Tough not well known in Korea, she failed in her UN Women bid in July. Although she failed, the bid seems appropriate. She had served top posts as a woman, and her experience and friendly character may have worked if she had been elected to head the UN body.
But the ILO head is a different post. Because labor issues are a field that requires high-level professionalism, a leader of the ILO should have much knowledge about relevant labor laws and working environments. That helps explain why Korea has the system of certified public labor attorneys. And yet, Kang, who has no expertise in the field, made a bold bid to command laborers of the world. It makes no sense.
If Kang runs to succeed such a leader based on the government’s support, the international community will laugh at Korea. Even the hard-line Korean Confederation of Trade Unions issued a statement earlier this month that Kang’s experience and vision are insufficient to become the next ILO secretary general.
So far, Korea has produced many leaders of international organizations. Ban Ki-moon headed the UN as secretary general and Lee Jong-wook led the World Health Organization. Song Sang-hyun served as the president of the International Criminal Court, and Kitack Lim was elected as the secretary general of the International Maritime Organization. Judge Paik Jin-hyun was the president of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea. They all served key posts in the international organizations and contributed to heighten Korea’s prestige. They are also experts in their fields.
Kang’s lack of expertise is not the only issue. Many said it is absurd for Korea, not an advanced country on labor issues, to field a candidate. On Thursday, about 30 labor and civic groups jointly criticized that it is nonsense for Korea, which does not respect even the minimum standards demanded by the ILO, to field a candidate for its secretary general election. As conflict between the labor community and employers are also serious, Korea is rated at the bottom on this issue. The labor community is about to start a movement to pressure Kang to give up her bid.
Maybe she thought she could head the ILO based on her experience as the foreign minister and a UN employee. That’s a big misunderstanding. When she was the foreign minister, she only needed to follow the Blue House’s direction. But a leader of an international organization is a different job. As no direction comes from above, she must create an agenda and pushes it forward. Even if Korea successfully lobbies and helps Kang win, she won’t be able to head the UN body successfully.
There are other qualified candidates as seen in many former labor ministers with international experience. If one of them had run, the bid would not be seen as absurd. Kang must step down now.