Yoo Heung-soo, a former lawmaker, provincial governor and national police chief with close ties to Japan, was appointed as the new ambassador to Tokyo on Wednesday.
The 76-year-old head of the Korea-Japan Friendship Association will succeed Lee Byung-kee, who is now director of the National Intelligence Service.
The announcement came as the two countries’ relations are at their lowest ebb in decades due to heated historical and territorial feuds.
Skepticism has erupted in the diplomatic circles over Yoo’s age and lack of experience in foreign affairs.
He is Korea’s oldest-ever envoy to Japan and known to have fostered a close relationship with presidential chief of staff Kim Ki-choon since they went to the same high school in Busan. Both of them studied law at Seoul National University and served the intelligence standing committee while at the National Assembly.
But some officials expressed high expectations, citing his broad network of contacts among senior Japanese politicians, deft command of the local language and political nous from decades of experience in parliament and public service.
After passing the national civil service exam in 1962, Yoo served in the police including as chief of the Busan and Seoul police organizations and as national commissioner general until becoming governor of South Chungcheong Province in 1982.
He entered politics in 1985 as a lawmaker of what is now the ruling Saenuri Party and was elected to four more consecutive terms. Since 2007, he has been a senior adviser to the party.
As a politician, he chaired the parliamentary panel on foreign affairs and unification and an association of Korean and Japanese lawmakers.
By Shin Hyon-hee (firstname.lastname@example.org)