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Moon reshuffles cabinet to push forward policies

Aug 10,2019
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From left: Cho Kuk, Choi Ki-young, Kim Hyun-soo, Lee Jung-ok, Lee Soo-hyuck
President Moon Jae-in on Friday replaced four ministers in his cabinet, naming his longtime ally Cho Kuk as the minister of justice and a semiconductor technology expert Choi Ki-young as the minister of science.

Moon also named Lee Soo-hyuck, a former chief nuclear negotiator of South Korea, as new ambassador to the United States.

“The cabinet reshuffle and replacement of the ambassador to the United States is aimed at pushing forward the reform policies of the Moon administration with consistency and stability,” Blue House spokeswoman Ko Min-jung said Friday. “High standards of integrity were the basis, and professional expertise was considered as the top priority. Gender and regional balances were also taken into account.”

Choi, a professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Seoul National University, was named as the minister of science and ICT. The appointment was made as the Moon administration struggles to overcome a supply crisis triggered by Japan’s recent export restrictions on materials, components and technologies key to South Korea’s semiconductor and display industries.

“He is a world-renowned expert of semiconductors,” Ko said. “He contributed greatly so Korea could become the world’s largest producer of memory chips, and he is currently concentrating his efforts to develop next-generation artificial intelligence chips. We expect him to heighten Korea’s competitiveness in science, technology and ICT by leading the country’s innovation in research and development to prepare for the fourth industrial revolution and nurture software industry.”

Moon also nominated Cho, a professor of law at Seoul National University and former presidential senior secretary for civil affairs, as the new minister of justice, despite fierce protests by the opposition parties.

Ko said Cho had successfully carried out the administration’s campaign to reform the powerful law enforcement authorities while working as the senior civil affairs secretary until last month. She said Moon expects Cho to use his academic knowledge, communication abilities and experience at the Blue House to complete the reform of the prosecution and weaken its influence over the Justice Ministry.

The latest cabinet reshuffle, particularly Moon’s nomination of Cho, faced an icy reception from the opposition parties. “This is going beyond ignoring the opposition parties,” said Rep. Na Kyung-won, floor leader of the largest opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP). “It is a declaration of a war against the opposition.”

Rep. Na was particularly critical of Cho’s initiative to create a new investigation agency for senior public servants. “This means Moon wants not only full control of the prosecution but also another prosecutorial agency submissive to the Blue House,” she said.

“No matter what we say, Moon will go ahead and appoint him, so we will lay bare his unsuitability at the upcoming confirmation hearing,” Na said, adding that Cho’s history of political propaganda campaigns using social media will in particular backfire.

The nominees will undergo non-binding confirmation hearings at the National Assembly. Rep. Na complained that Moon so far appointed 16 minister-level officials without opposition lawmakers’ supports.

Moon promoted Vice Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Kim Hyun-soo as the minister in the reshuffle. Lee Jung-ok, a sociology professor of Daegu Catholic University and a co-chairwoman of the Women’s Forum for Peace and Diplomacy, was named as Minister of Gender Equality and Family.

As South Korea’s new ambassador to the United States, Moon named Lee Soo-hyuck, a veteran diplomat-turned-lawmaker. “After passing the Foreign Service Exam in 1975, Lee served in various key posts of the government throughout his career, such as the assistant foreign minister and first deputy director of the National Intelligence Service,” Ko said. “We expect Lee to maintain and advance relations between Korea and the United States and resolve pending diplomatic issues.”

Lee is a proportional representative of the ruling Democratic Party (DP). To serve as the ambassador, he will hand over the seat to a political rookie, Jeong Eun-hye, former deputy spokeswoman of the party.

“The role of an ambassador is working on the frontline of diplomacy for the country, upholding the orders and guidelines from the president,” Lee said Friday. “The U.S. roles in Korea’s North Korea and Japan policies have widened and deepened, so the Korean embassy in Washington now has different responsibilities from the past.”

“Sometimes, I feel a sense of crisis as the U.S.-China conflict has escalated, and U.S. policy on China greatly affects the Korean Peninsula,” he said. “It is also the same for U.S.-North relations. I will analyze the situations and work with the U.S. government to create the best possible policy for Korea’s national interests.”

Lee, however, refused to discuss the ongoing diplomatic row between South Korea and Japan.

Lee was offered the post as Presidential Special Adviser Moon Chung-in had turned down the offer. Lee said Friday that he was contacted by the Blue House about the job early last week.

“I will soon be 70,” Moon told the JoongAng Ilbo on Thursday. “I told the Blue House that I still have much work to do in Korea and I don’t want to go.”

A senior presidential aide admitted that the Blue House both considered Moon Chung-in and Lee as prominent candidates as the envoy to Washington. “But Special Adviser Moon turned down the offer, and [he and the president] had a mutual understanding that his current role is more important,” the official said Friday.

After media began reporting that President Moon was considering sending his special adviser to Washington as South Korea’s ambassador, conservatives furiously protested the idea. An architect of the Kim Dae-jung administration’s “Sunshine Policy” and Moon’s “Korea Peninsula Peace Process,” the political scientist has made controversial remarks over the past years, often questioning the merit of the South Korea-U.S. alliance.

Calling Moon Chung-in “a destroyer of the Korea-U.S. alliance,” LKP Chairman Hwang Kyo-ahn said Thursday, “Neither the opposition party nor the people will accept such appointment.”

While sending a new envoy to Washington, President Moon kept his foreign and defense ministers and ambassadors to Japan, China and Russia. The LKP complained that Moon Jae-in was keeping Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha and Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo, despite the snowballing security crisis involving Japan and North Korea.

“Replacing the foreign affairs and national security aides was the top priority for the country, but Moon kept them,” LKP floor leader Na said Friday. “It shows that this administration doesn’t see the current crisis as a crisis. The government’s pro-North, China and Russia policies are laid bare.”

The Blue House made clear Friday that there will be no more reshuffling for now. “The second team of the cabinet for Moon’s presidency is completed with the latest reshuffle,” Ko said.

The replacement of the four ministers on Friday followed the March reshuffle, where five ministers were changed. In both reshuffles, Moon largely let go politicians expected to run in next year’s general election while recruiting veteran policymakers to push his key policies.

In addition to the cabinet reshuffle, Joh Sung-wook, former business professor at Seoul National University and Korea University, was named to head the Fair Trade Commission. She will fill the vacancy created after Kim Sang-jo left to serve as the presidential chief of policy. Han Sang-hyuk, a lawyer, was named as the head of the Korea Communications Commission, and Eun Sung-soo, chief executive of the state-run Export-Import Bank of Korea, was selected as the head of the Financial Services Commission.

Park Sam-deuk, a former president of National Defense University, was named as the minister of patriots and veterans affairs. Kim Joon-hyung, a professor at Handong Global University, was named as the head of the Korea National Diplomatic Academy.

Moon jae-in also named former Unification Minister Jeong Se-hyun as deputy chair of the presidential National Unification Advisory Council.

BY SER MYO-JA [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]