January 21, 2021 11:22
President Moon Jae-in on Wednesday fired lackluster Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha and replaced her with his security adviser Chung Eui-yong.
Moon also tapped Minjoo Party lawmaker Hwang Hee as the new culture, sports and tourism minister and MP lawmaker Kwon Chil-seung as the new SMEs and start-ups minister, replacing Park Young-sun, who is running for Seoul mayor.
The nominees either have a track record of working with Moon or are loyal to him.
Kang held on to her post through months of criticism of her laggard performance and private scandals because she is seen as a Moon loyalist, but eventually she stumbled over North Korea.
Her replacement Chung, an ardent appeaser of North Korea, has been national security adviser since Moon took office in 2017, sometimes acting as an alternate foreign minister in contacts with the U.S. and North Korea.
Cheong Wa Dae spokesman Chung Man-ho said, "Chung has experience in negotiating and mediating all issues between [South] Korea and the U.S. and was also deeply involved in denuclearization talks."
He delivered a message to former U.S. president Donald Trump that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was willing to scrap his nuclear weapons, leading to the historic U.S.-North Korea summit in Singapore.
A government official said Kang was replaced due to "a need to form a closer relationship with the U.S. in line with the launch of the Biden administration."
But Chung too has only dealt with Trump administration officials so far.
At first Kang had not been considered for replacement in the current reshuffle, and ministry insiders expected her to continue until Moon's five-year term ends in 2022. Observers believe things changed after the North Korean leader's powerful sister, Kim Yo-jong, threw a tantrum last month when Kang cast doubt on the North’s claim to be completely free of coronavirus.
Kim Yo-jong attacked Kang for making "presumptuous" comments and warned South Korea "might have to pay dearly" for them.
Other hissy fits from Kim Yo-jong in June last year had led to the sacking of Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chul and Defense Minister Chung Kyung-doo as Moon bent over backward to appease the North.
"The government is seeking to resume dialogue with North Korea using vaccine assistance as links, so it probably had no choice but to take Kim Yo-jong's criticism seriously," a ruling-party insider said.
The opposition slammed the nominations as being skewed toward Moon loyalists rather than any competence candidates might have in the field.
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