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Questions growing over Moon's pick for foreign minister

By Kang Seung-woo

President Moon Jae-in's pick for new foreign minister is raising questions over whether the nominee is the perfect fit for the position against the backdrop of the leadership change in the United States.

Foreign minister nominee Chung Eui-yong speaks to reporters as he arrives at a temporary office in Seoul, Thursday. / Yonhap
Foreign minister nominee Chung Eui-yong speaks to reporters as he arrives at a temporary office in Seoul, Thursday. / Yonhap
On Wednesday, Moon named former National Security Office chief Chung Eui-yong to replace Foreign Affairs Minister Kang Kyung-wha in an apparent bid to push his Korean Peninsula "peace process," which has been deadlocked since the failure of the Hanoi summit between North Korea and the U.S. in February 2019. Chung is the architect of the peace initiative.

However, critics point out that should Chung, who brokered the historic first summit between former U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in 2018, take the same approach with the newly inaugurated Joe Biden administration that is seeking to reverse Trumps' policies, discord is likely between Seoul and Washington on issues involving Pyongyang.

It is also a complication that Biden's foreign policy team believes the "summit diplomacy" between the U.S. and the North failed.

In his first message to the media right after the nomination, Chung vowed to try his best to help Moon's peace process take root.

"Days after urging the Biden administration to follow up on the Singapore Declaration in his New Year press conference, President Moon nominated Chung, deeply involved in the Singapore summit, as foreign minister and is trying to get the nod from President Biden for his peace initiative as he did with Trump," Rep. Tae Young-ho of the main opposition People Power Party wrote on Facebook.

"Although it worked with Trump, who had no knowledge about North Korea's nuclear program and was interested in superficial achievements, it will not be as easy as they think for Chung and the government to convince Biden, who has decades of foreign policy experience."

In March 2018, Chung flew to Washington and delivered Trump an invitation to meet from the North Korean leader, which the former U.S. president accepted on the spot. According to a memoir by former national security adviser John Bolton, the U.S.-North summit was Chung's idea.

Shin Beom-chul, the director of the Center for Diplomacy and Security at the Korea Research Institute for National Strategy, said it will be impossible for the government to push the existing Korean Peninsula peace process under the Biden administration.

"The U.S. is unlikely to first ease sanctions on the North or propose the declaration of an official end to the Korean War, so the Moon government needs to coordinate with the U.S. on the peace initiative," he said.

However, the time given for President Moon to arrange a summit between the U.S. and the North is limited before the end of his term, Shin noted.

"Due to the lack of time, the government may overreach itself, which may cause friction between the South and the U.S.," he added.


By Kang Seung-woo

President Moon Jae-in's pick for new foreign minister is raising questions over whether the nominee is the perfect fit for the position against the backdrop of the leadership change in the United States.

Foreign minister nominee Chung Eui-yong speaks to reporters as he arrives at a temporary office in Seoul, Thursday. / Yonhap
Foreign minister nominee Chung Eui-yong speaks to reporters as he arrives at a temporary office in Seoul, Thursday. / Yonhap
On Wednesday, Moon named former National Security Office chief Chung Eui-yong to replace Foreign Affairs Minister Kang Kyung-wha in an apparent bid to push his Korean Peninsula "peace process," which has been deadlocked since the failure of the Hanoi summit between North Korea and the U.S. in February 2019. Chung is the architect of the peace initiative.

However, critics point out that should Chung, who brokered the historic first summit between former U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in 2018, take the same approach with the newly inaugurated Joe Biden administration that is seeking to reverse Trumps' policies, discord is likely between Seoul and Washington on issues involving Pyongyang.

It is also a complication that Biden's foreign policy team believes the "summit diplomacy" between the U.S. and the North failed.

In his first message to the media right after the nomination, Chung vowed to try his best to help Moon's peace process take root.

"Days after urging the Biden administration to follow up on the Singapore Declaration in his New Year press conference, President Moon nominated Chung, deeply involved in the Singapore summit, as foreign minister and is trying to get the nod from President Biden for his peace initiative as he did with Trump," Rep. Tae Young-ho of the main opposition People Power Party wrote on Facebook.

"Although it worked with Trump, who had no knowledge about North Korea's nuclear program and was interested in superficial achievements, it will not be as easy as they think for Chung and the government to convince Biden, who has decades of foreign policy experience."

In March 2018, Chung flew to Washington and delivered Trump an invitation to meet from the North Korean leader, which the former U.S. president accepted on the spot. According to a memoir by former national security adviser John Bolton, the U.S.-North summit was Chung's idea.

Shin Beom-chul, the director of the Center for Diplomacy and Security at the Korea Research Institute for National Strategy, said it will be impossible for the government to push the existing Korean Peninsula peace process under the Biden administration.

"The U.S. is unlikely to first ease sanctions on the North or propose the declaration of an official end to the Korean War, so the Moon government needs to coordinate with the U.S. on the peace initiative," he said.

However, the time given for President Moon to arrange a summit between the U.S. and the North is limited before the end of his term, Shin noted.

"Due to the lack of time, the government may overreach itself, which may cause friction between the South and the U.S.," he added.


Kang Seung-woo ksw@koreatimes.co.kr


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