Kim Yong-ho, the ambassador to Belarus who has been serving at the Foreign Ministry since 1986, posted his view about the civil servants’ political neutrality on the agency’s intranet last Saturday. In it, he criticized the trend over the past decade that “old boys” have returned to Cheong Wa Dae, the Cabinet and the ministry after advising presidential candidates, calling it “retrograde” for history.
“Retired senior diplomats have started to enter politics, chip in for the election race and then show up again as sitting executives,” Kim wrote.
“My personal belief is that among many provisions of nature, the most fundamental and critical thing is circulation. Old boys would better continue their career as politicians or remain in advisory roles, instead of returning to their former workplace.”
The post came amid speculation that former Ambassador to Geneva Chung Eui-yong, who chairs a group of foreign policy advisors for President Moon Jae-in, may take up the foreign minister position. Chung, 72, retired more than 15 years ago and served as a proportional representative of the Uri Party, a predecessor to Moon’s Democratic Party of Korea, from 2004 to 2008.
Among other members in the group are former Ambassador to Malaysia and Myanmar Cho Byung-jae and former Ambassador to Jordan Shin Bong-kil.
Kim also issued veiled criticism for Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se, who also came back as the top diplomat in 2013 several years after his retirement. He advised former President Park Geun-hye during the election campaign.
Kim took issue with Yun’s late-night closed-door gathering of senior officials for brainstorming on nearly every subject, nicknamed the “conclave.”
“Greeting the new era, I hope our junior diplomats will come forward to the open plaza for dialogue and debate, rather than remain locked in the room for the conclave.”
The ambassador’s view was met with mixed reactions, with some officials relaying replies in support.
But others were more skeptical. A senior diplomat attributed the post to his “outspoken, straight-speaking” characteristic, while another official said that given the diplomatic service’s exclusive nature, it is “not too bad to have retired seniors’ input from the political circle.”
By Shin Hyon-hee (firstname.lastname@example.org)