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(News Focus) FM Yun's stay in Cabinet seen as move to make sure policy stability: experts

2016/08/16 17:44

By Koh Byung-joon

SEOUL, Aug. 16 (Yonhap) -- President Park Geun-hye's decision to hold onto her top diplomat in a partial reshuffle announced on Tuesday might be a practical measure to ensure policy stability, possibly signaling hopes that her longest-serving minister can serve to close many outstanding issues, experts said.

Earlier in the day, President Park conducted a government reshuffle in which three ministers were replaced. Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se had also been cited as one of those who could be changed, but he was excluded from the shakeup.

Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se. (Yonhap) Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se. (Yonhap)

Known to be a close confidante of the president, Yun took office as foreign minister in March 2013. With the latest government reshuffle, he has become the only Cabinet member who has stayed by Park's from the start of her administration.

"Despite a mixed assessment of his performance, it seems that Yun was left in office as the president wants him to serve as a closer for many issues," Lee Bu-young, an analyst at Hyundai Research Institute.

"Yun knows better than others given that he has been with the Cabinet from the start. It seems to be hard to take any risk in changing such an important post in the middle of many ongoing things," the observer added.

Yun's stay comes as South Korea is facing many major diplomatic controversies with neighboring countries.

A feud with China has flared up since South Korea decided to deploy U.S. advanced missile defense system on its territory in July. The deep-running rift over sexual slavery of Korean women by Japan during World War II is also an ongoing issue even after a landmark deal reached between the two countries in December to resolve the matter "once and for all."

   In particular, China's continued bashing of South Korea in recent weeks over the decision to place a Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) battery is raising worries that it could undermine their united front to sanction North Korea for its nuclear and missile provocations.

China has objected to THAAD being stationed on the peninsula, expressing worries that its powerful radar system can be used against it. Seoul and Washington maintained the missile defense shield will only be focused on keeping close tabs on North Korea and protest the country from the reclusive country's growing missile threat.

Last week, it was reported that Beijing has in effect hampered the United Nations Security Council's push to issue a chairman's statement denouncing the North's latest missile provocations by forcing the inclusion of its opposition to THAAD.

Experts say that a replacement of the top diplomat could send out the "wrong signal" over the government's policy direction and could create a "vacuum" at the major policymaking position considering possible political bickering in the process of a confirmation hearing.

That might be the last thing that Park wants at a time when a continuity is of utmost importance to produce results and there are many major diplomatic events in the months to come including the summit among the group of 20 countries to be held in China in early September.

Some critics, however, expressed disappointment with the government's decision to maintain the current foreign minister, saying that it is time for a change and reform given the country's diplomatic deadlock.

They said that the government demonstrated a lack of its willingness to tackle the current situations dotted with cacophony and confrontation on a global diplomatic stage.

"Nothing has been resolved with regard to the North's nuke issue. Rather, things seem to be getting worse and worse," said Shin Sang-jin, a professor of international studies at Kwangwoon University.

"Current policy is long on confrontation but short on conversation. It's time for innovation and change. In that sense, the latest government reshuffle comes as a disappointment," he claimed.