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(News Focus) Moon's pick for FM signals push to expand diplomatic horizon, concerns linger

2017/05/21 19:57

By Koh Byung-joon

SEOUL, May 21 (Yonhap) -- President Moon Jae-in's pick for his first foreign minister signals a push to go beyond the country's longstanding diplomacy revolving around major powers and reach out to more diverse global partners as well as play a larger role in the world community, experts said Sunday.

They still remain concerned that Kang Kyung-hwa, who was nominated as the country's top diplomat on Sunday, might not be well-suited to handle the immediate and complicated diplomatic challenges such as North Korea's nuclear issue, citing her relative inexperience in relevant issues.

Kang, who currently serves as special advisor on policy to the U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, was named as the first foreign minister under the Moon government which was inaugurated on May 10.

Moon also tapped Chung Eui-yong, a career diplomat and former lawmaker who served as ambassador to Geneva, to head the presidential National Security Office. Moon Chung-in, an honorary professor at Seoul's Yonsei University, and Hong Seok-hyun, former head of a local newspaper and former ambassador to the United States, were named as special presidential advisors for diplomatic and security issues.

If her appointment is confirmed, Kang will be the first woman to lead South Korea's foreign ministry and the first case in 14 years in which the ministry is headed by a person who didn't start as a career diplomat.

Her first career was a PD and announcer at a broadcasting company in South Korea back in 1977. Kang made her name known to the diplomatic community when she interpreted between President Kim Dae-jung and U.S. President Bill Clinton in 1997 as Korea was hit by the Asian financial crisis.

Kang started to get involved in foreign affairs from 1999 when she began to work as an advisor to the then foreign minister Hong Soon-young. She led the international organization bureau of the ministry in 2005, the second time that a women had climbed to that level of rank.

Since moving to the U.N. in 2006, she has built her career at the global body mostly focusing on human rights and aid efforts. She has served as a special advisor on policy for U.N. Secretary-General Guterres since December last year.

Announcing her nomination, President Moon expressed hope that she would wisely handle sensitive pending diplomatic issues based on her expertise and network that she has built on the global diplomatic stage.

Moon's choice came as a surprise in that most of previous diplomatic chiefs came from within the ministry or were associated with affairs related to the U.S. alliance and North Korea.

Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies, still believes Kang's career at the U.N. would be helpful in addressing the North nuclear conundrum which has turned into an issue that requires global cooperation.

"Her nomination can be interpreted as the Moon government's willingness to better communicate with the global community with regard to issues related to the North," he said.

"Given that the North problem has turned into a global challenge, more communication means that the Seoul government is ready to listen to what other countries have to say, while seeking to more effectively tell our own views to the outside," he added.

Yang, in particular, cited Kang's experience at the U.N. as a key asset that she could capitalize on in drawing global cooperation against North Korea that could go beyond the U.S-South Korea alliance.

Chung Seong-chang, a senior research fellow at the South Korean think tank Sejong Institute, is also hopeful that Kang will raise the "horizon" for the country's diplomacy.

"It is fair to say that we have constrained ourselves to the so-called four major powers diplomacy," he said. "With Kang likely to become the diplomatic chief with long experience at the U.N., the horizon of our diplomacy under the Moon government could be expanded.”

There are, however, skepticism and worries about her inexperience in dealing with North Korea, which requires close coordination and cooperation from major powers including the U.S.

"It is true that we have been too focused on diplomacy revolving around North Korea. We now have a chance to diversify our diplomatic capacity and raise our standing in areas other than the North's issue," said Lim Eul-chul, a professor at the Institute for Far East Studies at Kyungnam University. "But it is still concerning that (she) might not be able to navigate through all the pending challenges given her inexperience in those fields."

   "It could take some time (for her to get a handle of key issues). I am afraid that we could enjoy the luxury of waiting at a time when the North's nuclear threat is just around the corner," he added.

Some even project that the weight in diplomatic decision-making regarding major challenges for the country will be shifted from the foreign ministry to the presidential office down the road.

"It is hard to dispel the worries that the minister-designate will be able to raise her own voice strongly in major decision-making," Woo Jung-yeop, a researcher at the Sejong Institute, said. "This shows that the presidential office could take the driver's seat in handling important diplomatic challenges."

   kokobj@yna.co.kr

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