Lawmakers from the opposition Liberty Korea Party and People’s Party urged Song to voluntarily drop his bid to become the Moon Jae-in administration’s first defense chief, saying his high-paying career as a military contractor and at a law firm would clash with his mission to eradicate wrongdoings on military acquisition.
“Cheong Wa Dae should bear in mind that Song’s voluntary withdrawal from the candidacy is the first step for the military reform,” said People’s Party in a statement. “Sending Song to a parliamentary hearing is nothing but an insult to the National Assembly and the people.”
|Defense Minister nominee Song Young-moo (Yonhap)|
Faced with a barrage of attacks over suspected irregularities, Song offered apologizes for some of the alleged misconducts, but devoted most of his time to self-defense, explanation and a plea for an opportunity to reform the military.
The former chief of naval operations, meanwhile, stressed that the deployment of a US anti-missile system should undergo “enhanced scrutiny,” but refused to specify whether he thinks parliamentary approval is necessary.
The most serious allegation over Song was that he received an excessive salary while working as an adviser for Yulchon, a law firm, after leaving the Navy in 2008. He earned 990 million won ($868,000) working for the firm from 2009 to 2011.
Despite Song’s claim he only counseled lawyers about military jargon and background, opposition lawmakers say such a large sum of money must have been paid in return for lobbying efforts for military contractors and acquisition agencies.
“I think Song should be subject to an investigation, not a hearing,” Rep. Kim Hack-yong, a third-term lawmaker of the Liberty Korea Party, one of the first opposition lawmakers to reveal allegations surrounding Song.
Song’s post-military career in private enterprise does not clash with the law, but the record has raised concern that appointing him would undermine President Moon Jae-in’s initiative to overhaul the military, which suffered from acquisition scandals during previous administrations.
The controversy was intensified by Song’s previous remark that “there is a world that average people can’t understand,” which outraged people calling for higher ethical standards for Cabinet members under the Moon administration.
During the hearing, Song said he had never negotiated over his consulting fee at the law firm, claiming that he was unaware of the money he would receive. He also suggested that it was lawful for a retired officer to work for a military contractor, saying he would encourage his colleagues to join the defense industry after retirement.
“It seems like a CEO of a defense company talking to us,” said Rep. Kim Young-woo of Bareun Party, a chairman of the National Assembly’s defense committee, criticizing Song for lacking the credentials to serve the country as a public official.
President Moon Jae-in’s governing Democratic Party, however, asserted that although Song’s salary is deemed excessive from the perspective of the people, it is less than what candidates for Cabinet members under the previous Park Geun-hye administration received.
The ruling party also maintained that Song is still the best fit for reforming the scandal-ridden military, criticizing the attacks against the nominee as a part of smear campaign to undermine Song’s reform initiatives.
“Despite the fact his salary contradicts with public sentiment, I don’t think he received an absurd amount of money,” Rep. Woo Sang-ho of Democratic Party, claiming that former Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn received 1.6 billion won for 17 months when working at a local law firm from 2011 and 2012.
The nominee also came under fire for receiving 240 million won while working as an adviser for local military contractor LIG Nex1 between 2013 and 2015.
Song said his work was mostly in helping the company’s overseas projects, not lobbying for local contractors. He asserted that his job was mainly about assisting the company in selling a submarine to Indonesia.
“Throughout my military career, I have firmly believed that we should become a leading country for military business,” said Song. “LIG Nex1 has three contracts with Indonesia. I only responded to their request for counsel.”
Meanwhile, Song laid out his plans to improve the military’s fighting capabilities and overhaul its combat structure.
He said he would enhance the military’s cyberwarfare capability, which critics say lags behind that of North Korea. Pyongyang has allegedly launched multiple cyberattacks against South Korean military agencies over the past several years.
In order to accommodate the modern warfare environment, the nominee also vowed to streamline its force structure, revamp its leadership and enhance interoperability among all military branches. This follows accusations the South Korean military relies too much on the Army in terms of combat structure.
By Yeo Jun-suk (firstname.lastname@example.org)