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Abilities matter (KOR)

Feb 21,2019
The Blue House is preparing to replace ambassadors to four major powers — the United States, China, Japan and Russia. We welcome its decision to pick new faces representing our national interests on the global stage.

Over a month has passed since the key post of ambassador to Beijing became vacant after Noh Young-min was appointed as President Moon Jae-in’s chief of staff in January. The current Ambassador to Moscow Woo Yoon-keun wants to return to prepare to run for a legislative seat in next year’s general election. He is facing suspicions that he received a 10-million-won ($8,900) bribe to help a young man find a job at a large company. Ambassador to Tokyo Lee Su-hoon failed to demonstrate his presence in Japan to the extent that his first lunch with Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga took place only 15 months after he took office. That’s not all: there are rumors that Ambassador to Washington Cho Yoon-je wants to return, citing health reasons.

South Korea is a country that must rely on diplomacy with these four countries because of the North Korean nuclear threat, its geopolitical location and heavy dependence on those nations for trade. The four ambassadors should each have the capability to build strong human networks with their host countries and resolve bilateral conflicts immediately on the frontlines of diplomacy. But the Moon administration filled these crucial posts with people who have no diplomatic expertise — most of them were Moon’s campaign aides.

As a result, we have faced diplomatic debacles with the four major powers. Some experts hoped that bilateral relations would advance because of the ambassadors’ close connections with Moon. But their performances have dashed cold water on such expectations due to their lack of diplomatic expertise. The time has come for the Moon administration to end its appointments based on ideology. Even National Assembly speaker Moon Hee-sang stressed the need to recruit career diplomats and experts to promote our national interests overseas.

President Moon must shake off the so-called code-based appointments, broaden his narrow talent pool and place qualified people with dignity on the key posts in a bipartisan way. We hope he learns a lesson from former liberal president Kim Dae-jung, who appointed Lee Jong-koo — an advisor of the opposition Grand National Party at the time — as the new ambassador to Washington after taking office. Kim is still respected for the decision, which helped cement our ties with the Uncle Sam, and his outstanding bipartisanship for the nation.

JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 21, Page 30