The Korea Herald


[Editorial] Amb. Han’s transfer

By Korea Herald

Published : Feb. 19, 2012 - 20:59

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As it does each year, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade holds a conference of its diplomatic mission chiefs in Seoul this week, at which it briefs them on this year’s foreign policy goals and gives them new assignments.

Conspicuously missing from the conference will be Han Duck-soo, ambassador to the United States. Hardly a day had passed since his arrival last week before he said he was resigning. He did not offer any explanation. His seemingly abrupt decision sent many scratching their heads.

It was later revealed that he was offered the post of chairman of the Korea International Trade Association when he paid a call on President Lee Myung-bak at the presidential office. The post was vacated when SaKong Il, one of Lee’s cronies, recently resigned as the head of the association.

One obstacle to Han’s transfer was the association’s regulation banning incumbent government officials from applying for the post. As such, Han had to resign as ambassador.

One day after Han resigned and went to Washington to wrap up his work there on Thursday, members of the Korea International Trade Association unanimously recommended him as its next chairman.

A senior presidential aide was quoted as saying Han was selected because no other person was deemed better qualified to take follow-up measures at the traders’ group when the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement went into force later this month or early next month. That was understandable, though not totally convincing.

Yet, one of the questions that remained unanswered was what made President Lee hasten to fill the post. Lee’s action was all the more perplexing, given that no one was tapped yet as a candidate to succeed Han. Few would believe it was so urgent to fill the post as to vacate that of ambassador to the United States ― the most important among the nation’s overseas diplomatic posts.

Moreover, it was not the proper time to replace the ambassador, given that his successor would have just one year to serve at most. When a new president is inaugurated next February, he certainly will send a person he trusts to Washington as his envoy.

In a nutshell, Han’s sudden transfer is another example of ill-advised personnel management by President Lee, many of whose selections have been regarded as flawed for one reason or another.