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Moon replaces foreign minister as Biden takes office

From left are Chung Eui-yong, named as foreign minister, Hwang Hee, tapped as culture minister, and Kwon Chil-seung, nominated as SMEs and startups minister, in a combination of photos provided by Cheong Wa Dae. (Cheong Wa Dae)
From left are Chung Eui-yong, named as foreign minister, Hwang Hee, tapped as culture minister, and Kwon Chil-seung, nominated as SMEs and startups minister, in a combination of photos provided by Cheong Wa Dae. (Cheong Wa Dae)


President Moon Jae-in on Wednesday named three ministerial nominees, including his former top security adviser Chung Eui-yong as foreign minister, in the first Cabinet reshuffle this year.

Chung, 74, replaces Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha, the nation’s first female foreign minister and the longest-serving minister in Moon’s Cabinet.

Kang’s replacement comes as a surprise, as she had been widely expected to stay until the end of Moon’s presidency in May 2022.

A Cheong Wa Dae source said the latest reshuffle aims to breathe fresh air into the nation’s foreign affairs team and the stalled peace talks, with the new Biden administration in the US taking shape.

Chung’s nomination, in particular, is seen as reflecting Moon’s will to revive his peace drive as he enters his final year in office.

The former career diplomat who served as ambassador to Israel and Geneva is considered a longtime aide to Moon who helped shape the president’s engagement policy for North Korea during his campaign years.

When Moon took office in 2017, he was picked to lead the presidential National Security Office at Cheong Wa Dae and held the post for three years.

In that post, he coordinated all issues between South Korea and the US and was deeply involved in mediating the North-US negotiations, including the historic summit talks.

“Foreign Minister nominee Chung is a top expert who has devoted his entire life to foreign affairs and security issues,” said Chung Man-ho, presidential senior secretary for public affairs.

“He is expected to play a key role in strengthening the Korea-US alliance upon the launch of the new Biden administration as well as managing ties smoothly with other allies, including China, Japan, Russia and EU.”

With the latest nomination, no drastic change is expected in Moon’s existing policy direction, experts said.

“Considering Chung served as security chief from the very beginning of the Moon administration, Moon’s current policy direction will be maintained in the remaining time of his presidency,” said Shin Beom-chul, director of the Center for Diplomacy and Security at the Korea Research Institute for National Strategy.

On the same day, Moon also tapped Rep. Hwang Hee of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea as culture minister and Kwon Chil-seung, another Democratic Party lawmaker, as the SMEs and startups minister.

Hwang is a two-term lawmaker with expertise in planning and communications. He worked as a public relations officer during the Roh Moo-hyun administration.

Kwon is also a two-term lawmaker who has long worked for shared growth between large and small businesses. He will be replacing Minister Park Young-sun, who offered her resignation and is rumored to run in the Seoul mayoral by-election.

The three nominees are subject to parliamentary confirmation hearings.

By Lee Ji-yoon (jylee@heraldcorp.com)

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