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Defense minister sets an agenda

July 15,2017
New Defense Minister Song Young-moo vowed to drastically “reform” South Korea’s military in the face of growing provocations from the North, saying Friday during an inaugural speech in Seoul that achieving “self-reliant defense capabilities” was the goal.

“North Korea’s Kim Jong-un regime is conducting nuclear experiments and developing various kinds of missile technology, threatening not only the Korean Peninsula but the entire world’s peace and security,” he said.

Song continued that “neighboring countries surrounding the Korean Peninsula” were in an “age of limitless competition” seeking their own national interests, which is why South Korea needed to build more military muscle to “suppress any threat from North Korea and become a reciprocal bridge to countries nearby.”

Song’s strategy included developing the South Korean-U.S. alliance; cultivating a military culture that Korean men and their families are not afraid of; promoting the domestic defense industry; and establishing a national security system for non-military threats such as natural disasters.

Song’s inaugural speech was made a day after President Moon Jae-in appointed him minister, defying objections from opposition parties that the former Navy chief of staff was unfit for the position due to ethical lapses in the past.

The 68-year-old had come under fire for driving under the influence of alcohol in 1991 and for playing golf in his post-retirement years on anniversaries of such national tragedies as the sinking of the Cheonan warship and North Korea’s shelling of Yeonpyeong Island.

Nevertheless, Moon pushed through with his nominee, saying he couldn’t keep the top military seat empty.

The Liberty Korea and Bareun parties demanded Moon retract his nominations for the defense and labor ministers, boycotting legislative proceedings for over a week. The parties lifted the abstention Friday after Cho Dae-yop, Moon’s nomination for labor minister, announced he was abandoning the nomination Thursday.

BY LEE SUNG-EUN [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]