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Critics note defense minister nominee has golfed during sensitive anniversaries

July 13,2017
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Song Young-moo
Defense Minister nominee Song Young-moo has frequented golf courses 295 times over the past five years of his retirement, even on anniversary days commemorating the sinking of the Cheonan Warship and North Korea’s shell attack on Yeonpyeong Island.

Liberty Korea Party Rep. Kim Hack-yong’s revelation on Tuesday that the former Navy chief of staff played golf on March 26 of last year, which marked the sixth anniversary of the sinking of Cheonan warship by a North Korean torpedo attack that left 46 sailors dead, and on Nov. 23 in both 2013 and 2014, the anniversary date for the Yeonpyeong Island attack by the North, which left four dead, further fueled demands that Song withdraw himself from consideration.

Song has already been under fire for his 1991 record of driving under the influence of alcohol. The document shows his blood alcohol level was 0.11 percent, a figure that would nullify a driver’s license today. Another point of contention is the huge sum of money the nominee earned in his post-military career working as an adviser for a law firm and a defense industry company. It was revealed that he had made nearly $1 million over a three-year-period, prompting the opposition to describe him as being obsessed with money.

According to the document made public by Rep. Kim, the nominee has made 295 visits to military-owned golf courses. It also revealed that the former four-star general played golf on June 15, 2012, at a Pyeongtaek golf course, which is the anniversary of the first Battle of Yeonpyeong in 1999 along the Northern Limit Line off the island of Yeonpyeong between the navies of South and North Korea. The first Yeonpyeong Battle is regarded as a victory for the South Korean Navy, which suffered only non-life threatening injuries but no deaths. The North Korean navy is said to have lost up to 30 soldiers during the maritime clash.

While he was a civilian in retirement, the opposition nevertheless raised its objection to the nominee, citing his golf records on anniversary dates that commemorate sacrifices of South Korean soldiers in service of the nation.

The opposition’s criticism also centered on the fact that Song was the Navy chief of staff and yet chose to play golf on the June 15 anniversary of the first Yeonpyeong Battle.

“It is just impossible for me to understand why he played golf on that day (June 15) in light of the fact that he was the Navy chief of staff,” said Joo Ho-young, floor leader of the Bareun Party on Thursday.

Moon’s choice of the former Navy general was seen as a sign of his resolve to reform the military, as Song hails from the Navy, not the Army, which has long dominated the top ranks of the military. The former four-star general is known for his progressive military agenda and interest in rights.

BY KANG JIN-KYU [kang.jinkyu@joongang.co.kr]