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[Newsmaker] Kang Kyung-wha: Seoul's first-ever female FM nominee

President Moon Jae-in’s pick for foreign minister is a female diplomat with a career in the United Nations and who started off as a language expert.

Kang Kyung-wha, who was nominated Sunday to lead the Foreign Ministry, has been serving as a special policy adviser to the UN secretary-general since December. The position was newly created by UN chief Antonio Guterres for Kang, who headed his transition team.

“She is a diplomatic expert holding titles of the first and the best,” Moon told reporters, announcing her nomination.

“Given her expertise in international affairs and extensive networks, I am convinced she will be the perfect fit for navigating through sensitive diplomatic agenda.” 

Kang is the latest female official to be appointed to a senior position in the Moon administration, following Veteran Affairs Chief Ret. Lt. Col Pi Woo-jin and Cho Hyun-ock, senior presidential secretary for personnel affairs.

To be appointed, Kang, 62, must go through the parliamentary confirmation process. If cleared, she will become the first woman to head the Foreign Ministry in its history.

Cheong Wa Dae, in a rare move, revealed “minor flaws” in Kang’s ethic credentials that her elder daughter had chosen US citizenship over her Korean nationality and that she once registered a false residence in order to be accepted into a preferred school.

“Kang was nominated despite these problems as she was deemed the best diplomatic chief in current circumstances,” said Cho, the personnel affairs secretary.  

Kang Kyung-wha (UN)
Kang Kyung-wha (UN)

The nomine entered the Foreign Ministry in 1999 as a specialist for international relations, without passing the state exam for career diplomats.

She went on to serve as an aide to former Foreign Minister Hong Soon-young and also worked as an interpreter for the late former President Kim Dae-jung. 

Since then, she assumed key positions in the Foreign Ministry. In 2005, she was named as director-general of international organization, becoming the second female diplomat to serve as a director-level official. 

Her foray into the UN began in 2006 when she was appointed as the UN deputy high commissioner for human rights. In 2013, she went on to become assistant secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and deputy emergency relief coordinator in the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Prior to joining the Foreign Ministry, Kang assisted the speaker of the National Assembly in parliamentary diplomacy. Earlier in her career, she worked for the Korean Broadcasting System’s news bureau and international radio bureau, and lectured English literature at Sejong University in Seoul.

A graduate from Yonsei University with a Bachelor of Arts in political science and diplomacy, she earned her Masters of Arts in mass communication and her Ph.D. in intercultural communication from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, in the US. 

By Yeo Jun-suk (

Korea Herald daum