NATIONAL

[Newsmaker] Foreign minister nominee’s prospects darken

By Jung Min-kyung
  • Published : Jun 6, 2017 - 16:14
  • Updated : Jun 6, 2017 - 18:29
Kang Kyung-wha, nominated to become South Korea’s first female foreign minister, is considered the embodiment of an “alpha female,” with a resume that includes time as a special policy adviser to the United Nations secretary-general.

Still, the country’s most prominent female diplomat faces an uphill confirmation battle.

Opposition lawmakers are determined to grill the 62-year-old nominee over allegations of wrongdoing at a hearing Wednesday. 

(Yonhap)

Even before the parliamentary process opened for Kang, the main opposition Liberty Korea Party demanded Tuesday that she give up on becoming minister.

If she does not, the conservative party said it would stop her from taking the job.

“Kang is receiving so many legal and ethical suspicions which makes it difficult for her to earn the trust of the nation,” said Liberty Korea Party Rep. Yoon Young-seok, who sits on the parliamentary foreign affairs committee.

“Either President Moon Jae-in needs to retract her nomination or Kang has to drop out.”

Lawmakers from other opposition parties -- the People’s Party and Bareun Party -- are also intensifying their criticism of the nominee.

Despite their objections, the parties have no formal powers to block her nomination. Kang’s appointment does not require National Assembly approval, but Moon will be under immense political pressure not to heed the report on her qualification to be presented by the Assembly after the hearing. Three opposition parties together hold 167 of the 299 seats.

The bleak outlook is in contrast to initial positive reactions to her May 21 nomination. She won praise as the first female nominee, and for climbing the ladder of the notoriously-exclusive Foreign Ministry as an outsider -- she joined the ministry in 1999 without passing the state exam for career diplomats. Her experience in both the global and domestic arena added to her credentials.

In the past two weeks, however, media have been digging up dirt based on accusations by opposition lawmakers. The allegations include the registration of a false address for her daughter’s education, underpaying real estate taxes, improper use of national health insurance and her daughters’ evasion of gift taxes.

The nominee has personally apologized for falsely registering her address to get her daughter into her alma mater, but stood firm on the other accusations. Her daughters paid gift taxes in full after the announcement of her nomination and she was cleared of the accusations of attempting to avoid property tax and free riding on health insurance by the relevant government authorities.

Amid the barrage of attacks on Kang, her supporters are also speaking up.

Her policy vision, unique experience in the UN, and South Korea’s monthslong diplomatic leadership vacuum should all be taken into account when judging whether she is the right person for the job, they argue.

Oh Joon, a former South Korean ambassador to the UN, expressed his support for Kang through social media, saying, “I know Foreign Minister nominee Kang inside and outside of work and at the UN, she has managed to receive the most positive evaluations I’ve ever heard.”

The former ambassador emphasized that it was time for South Korea to have its first female foreign minister.

Former Floor Leader of the People’s Party Park Jie-won also praised the nominee for her competence in a radio interview. “I personally believe she is right for the job despite the growing irregularities surrounding her,” he said. “She carries fresh qualities as a female nominee and a non-exam diplomat.”

The ruling Democratic Party of Korea said despite the alleged irregularities, no major defect has been found in Kang’s credentials to make her unfit for the job.

Now, it seems how well Kang fends off attacks from opposition lawmakers at Wednesday’s hearing -- to be livestreamed online and broadcast on TV -- will determine whether or not she will take the job.

By Jung Min-kyung (mkjung@heraldcorp.com)