+ A

Discord from within (KOR)

Sept 18,2019
Reports of discord between Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha and Deputy Director of the National Security Office Kim Hyun-chong seem to be true. The two top officials of the Moon Jae-in administration were reportedly involved in a harsh war of words during Moon’s overseas trip in April — even in English at the last minute. When an opposition lawmaker asked if reports were true in the National Assembly, Kang did not deny it. Her remarks could reflect enduring friction with Kim in the Blue House. Apart from who is responsible for the quarrel, the episode deserves a strict warning from the president.

Their hostility is nothing new. But if the discordance represents conflict and disharmony between the Foreign Ministry and the Blue House beyond a personal level, that’s a serious issue. Insiders attribute it to the Blue House’s move to ignore the ministry in making decisions on major issues. They say the cacophony mostly stemmed from the way Kim has been doing his job and his uniquely domineering work style. Pundits have even started to cite the “Kim Hyun-chong risk.”

One such example can be found in the lead-up to the government’s announcement on Aug. 22 of a drastic plan to walk away from the General Security of Military Information Agreement (Gsomia), a military intelligence-sharing deal, with Japan last month. Kim was allegedly behind the administration’s sudden change of course after a National Security Council meeting was held on the same day. Kim has been leading hard-line policies toward Japan since July when Tokyo imposed export restrictions on key materials shipped to Korea for its production of semiconductors and displays.

Another concern centers on how Kim behaved in the United States in early July when he was dispatched to Washington to request its help in resolving the trade conflict between Seoul and Tokyo. Kim made incomprehensible remarks at the time. “I did not ask for U.S. mediation. Once you are begging for help, you become a global underdog,” he said. Since then, many U.S. officials reportedly expressed disappointment. Whether true or not, he triggered an unnecessary reaction from the United States.

The Moon administration is having a tough time on the security, economic and diplomatic fronts. The government should not let internal frictions make things worse. We strongly urge Kim to keep a low profile, especially considering his strong influence on national security affairs thanks to Moon’s deep trust.

JoongAng Ilbo, Sept. 18, Page 30