April 22, 2011 10:44
President Lee Myung-bak on Thursday named former ambassador to Russia Lee Kyu-hyung new ambassador to China, former first vice foreign minister Shin Kak-soo ambassador to Japan, and former first deputy director of the National Intelligence Service Kim Sook ambassador to the UN.
Chief presidential press secretary Hong Sang-pyo said Kim Sook will immediately take the new post, while the two others' appointments will be finalized after the agrément procedures from China and Japan and Cabinet approval.
The move replaces the current political appointees to China and Japan -- Yu Woo-ik and Kwon Chul-hyun -- with career diplomats.
Critics say it is not a good idea to change ambassadors to China so frequently at a time when the Seoul-Beijing relations are much more important than ever before. Successive ambassadors to China have stayed in their post for much less than the normal three-year diplomatic tour.
Shin Jung-seung (2008-2009) was slighted by Chinese government officials on grounds that he was a lower-level diplomat than his immediate predecessor Kim Ha-joong (2001-2008), who served in the post during the Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun administrations. Yu (2009-2011) was according to observers not very enthusiastic about his post.
No Korean ambassadors to China spoke passable Chinese since many were appointed due to their political connections.
The volume of trade with China, Korea's largest trading partner, is bigger than that with the U.S. and Japan combined. Last year, China gave Korea trouble when it supported North Korea over its attacks on the Navy corvette Cheonan and Yeonpyeong Island. Experts worry that constant replacement of ambassadors could hurt relations with a county of such importance to Seoul.
Although only inaugurated three years ago, the Lee Myung-bak administration has already appointed its third ambassador to Beijing -- a situation that would be "hardly imaginable in other countries in the current international situation," according to a diplomat.
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