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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Jan. 5)

2018/01/05 07:00

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Unsuitable envoys

Ambassadors should be appointed for expertise

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs' latest ambassador appointments have raised concerns about Korea's diplomacy.

The ministry announced the appointment of new heads of missions earlier this week. Among them, 16 were from outside the foreign ministry, with some affiliated with the previous administrations of Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun.

There is essentially nothing wrong with bringing in outside figures to lead Korea's overseas missions. But the appointments must be based on their career experience and expertise. We can not help but question whether these were primarily considered with the latest envoy picks. For example, the appointment of Lee Baek-man, a former top presidential secretary for public affairs for the late former President Roh, as ambassador to the Vatican is incomprehensible.

Lee previously served as vice chief of the now defunct Government Information Agency and also worked as a journalist. There is nothing in his resume that suggests that he is an acceptable pick to represent Korea at the Vatican.

Similarly, the appointment of Park Keum-ok, a former top secretary to the National Assembly's speaker, as ambassador to Norway, and former lawmaker Jung Bum-koo as ambassador to Germany are also unsuitable. Jung went to the same university as President Moon Jae-in. Even though he studied in Germany when he was young, it is uncertain whether he has sufficient diplomatic expertise required for his new post. The same goes with the appointment for the new ambassador to Hungary.

President Moon has enjoyed immense popularity since taking office in May 2017, but he has been criticized for weak diplomacy. This is partly due to his unsuitable picks for envoys. His first picks for ambassadors to the four major powers — U.S., Japan, China and Russia were also non-experts. In September 2017, Moon picked Cho Yoon-je, a visiting professor at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, as ambassador to the U.S. The President named Noh Young-min, a former three-term lawmaker, as ambassador to China and Lee Su-hoon, a professor at Kyungnam University, as ambassador to Japan. Former lawmaker Woo Yoon-keun was named ambassador to Russia. All of them had contributed to Moon's presidential campaigns.

From Moon's envoy picks so far, one cannot help but get the impression that they were based on political considerations rather than diplomatic qualifications. If this continues, it will undermine Korea's diplomacy. The morale of career diplomats will also be affected.

(END)

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