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Seoul, Washington choose new ambassadors

Aug 31,2017
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President Moon Jae-in nominated Cho Yoon-je, an economist who served as ambassador to the United Kingdom and economic adviser to the Roh Moo-hyun Blue House, as ambassador to the United States on Wednesday.

Former lawmaker Noh Young-min of the Democratic Party was named ambassador to China, the Blue House said. Lee Su-hoon, a professor at Kyungnam University, was picked as ambassador to Japan.

Cho served as an economic aide to Roh, Moon’s political mentor, in 2003, and as ambassador to the U.K. in 2005. Moon selected Cho for his academic qualifications and diplomatic experience, presidential spokesman Park Soo-hyun said.

“We expect him to serve as a bridge to resolve major diplomatic issues such as the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement renegotiation and the nuclear crisis,” Park said. “We believe he will strengthen the alliance and contribute to national interests.”

During the presidential campaign, Cho headed Moon’s policy think thank. After Moon took office in May, he visited European Union and Germany as a special presidential envoy.

The appointment of the ambassador to the United States has been delayed because the Blue House wanted to find a heavyweight who can deal with the Donald Trump administration amid the latest security crisis. Noh, a former three-term lawmaker, was confirmed as the next ambassador to China despite concerns in the ruling party about losing a key politician ahead of next year’s local elections.

“He has ample political experience and abilities and a great negotiator,” said Park. “We believe he will smoothly resolve complex diplomatic issues with China such as the deployment of the [U.S.-led Terminal High Altitude Area Defense] antimissile system in Korea and Beijing’s subsequent economic retaliations.”

Lee, an international relations professor, is an advocate of inter-Korean dialogue. He served as chairman of the presidential advisory group for Northeast Asia policy during the Roh administration. On Moon’s transition team, he headed the foreign affairs and security division.

Park said Lee was chosen for his expertise in Northeast Asia affairs. “We believe he will resolve the complex issues involving the wartime history and restore bilateral trust to achieve a future-oriented advancement of Korea-Japan relations,” Park said.

All three nominees will be formally appointed after their host governments’ accept them. Park said the Blue House made an exceptional move to make the announcements before host countries’ confirmations because local media started reporting their names.

No announcement was made for Moon’s pick for ambassador to Russia. “We are still deliberating,” a Blue House official said.

The appointments were announced as Reuters reported Tuesday that the Trump administration plans to name Victor Cha as U.S. ambassador to Seoul.

Cha served as a director for Asian affairs on the White House National Security Council during the George W. Bush administration. He was also deputy head of the U.S. delegation in multilateral talks with North Korea over its nuclear program.

Cha, a Korean-American, is currently the Korea Chair at Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies and director of Asian Studies at Georgetown University’s Department of Government and School of Foreign Service.

While Cha refused to comment on the report, a diplomatic source told the JoongAng Ilbo that the Federal Bureau of Investigation already confirmed his background check process.

If Cha is appointed, he will be the second Korean-American in the post. Sung Kim, who served from 2011 till 2014, was the first.

The post has been vacant for seven months after the departure of Mark Lippert, a political appointee by Barack Obama. Marc Knapper, deputy chief of the mission, has been acting ambassador.

Cha is an advocate of strong sanctions on Pyongyang, including secondary boycott measures, China’s oil embargo and relisting the North as a state-sponsor of terror. He said Korea-U.S. cooperation must not be sacrificed to engagement with Pyongyang

“CSIS data studies suggest that inter-Korean engagement does not stop North Korean missile or WMD events,” he wrote in May after the North fired a missile shortly after Moon’s inauguration.

“A historical study indicates the absence of a significant correlation between periods of South Korean engagement with North Korea and Pyongyang’s refraining from provocations.”

He urged Seoul to join Washington’s initiative after the U.S. Treasury Department announced new sanctions earlier this month targeting Chinese and Russian entities that help fund the North’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

He also said China must pay for the cost of the denuclearization of North Korea, criticizing it for having gotten a free ride for a long time.

“Together the nuclear agreements executed by the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations cost the United States a half-billion dollars for denuclearization via monthly energy-assistance payments to Pyongyang. [Japan and South Korea also paid their fair share; China paid only a small amount in the Bush agreement],” he wrote in an opinion piece for the Washington Post in July.

“Meanwhile, China continued to enjoy its trade relationship with North Korea, extracting mineral resources at a fraction of world market prices.”

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