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Lee may change presidential aides in June

Chief of staff Yim will likely stay to prepare for inter-Korean summit: observers


President Lee Myung-bak is expected to replace some of his secretaries in early June as new minister nominees take office and oust several top aides if necessary after the Grand National Party’s national convention on July 4.

The National Assembly wrapped up confirmation hearings for the five new minister nominees last week. Ruling and opposition legislators are yet to approve hearing reports on two minister designates Bahk Jae-wan of finance and Suh Kyu-yong of agriculture. Parliamentary approval is not legally mandatory for minister designates’ appointment.

Since two others, Lee Chae-pil and Kwon Do-yeop, will be promoted from vice ministers to ministers of labor and land, respectively, new vice ministerial officials will be named to fill the empty seats, and incumbent presidential secretaries are often the usual candidates.

“Some presidential secretaries will be replaced soon along with the reshuffle of vice ministerial officials,” a Cheong Wa Dae official said.

“We will have to wait and see if senior secretaries will be moved around after the GNP picks its new leadership at the national convention on July 4.“

Lee needs to appoint at least three new secretaries as he recently appointed his knowledge economy secretary as the new minister of knowledge economy, and his secretaries for civic society and public communications offered to resign to run in the general elections next year.

Lee has reportedly told his aides to “pack up and leave” if they plan to run in the general elections in April next year.

A number of his aides including Presidential Chief of Staff Yim Tae-hee, who quit his third term as lawmaker to join Lee’s office in July last year, are expected to seek the GNP’s parliamentary candidacy next year.

Many observers believe, however, that Lee is unlikely to replace Yim this year as he needs to play a role in preparing for an inter-Korean summit. Lee’s top aides who were appointed along with Yim last year such as senior secretary for political affairs Chung Jin-seok are likely to remain in Cheong Wa Dae as well.

While serving as labor minister and lawmaker in October 2009, Yim went to Singapore as Lee’s special envoy to meet with a senior North Korean official for preliminary discussions on Lee’s possible summit with the North’s leader Kim Jong-il.

The proposed Lee-Kim summit talks, which largely depend on the leaders’ political decisions, are viewed by many as crucial for a breakthrough in the inter-Korean stalemate, which has continued for more than three years.

The Lee administration also has a pragmatic reason to pursue a summit with Kim Jong-il, as factory workers’ average wage in China has risen to almost triple that in North Korea’s Gaeseong industrial park. A North Korean worker in Gaeseong receives a monthly wage of $57 plus overtime pay and incentives.

By Kim So-hyun (sophie@heraldcorp.com)
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