|A scene from 1988 Walt Disney movie "Who framed Roger Rabbit?" Screen capture from Youtube|
By Oh Young-jin
What does the 1988 animation/ live action movie have to do with the presidential office?
How about a hint of resemblance between Roger and Kim Hyun-chong, second deputy at the National Security Office (NSO)?
To some observers, the two have the same startled look that a "bunny" can have but this appearance is not all that they have in common.
They both face a conspiracy against them ― Kim may have somebody out for him, just as Judge Doom was after Roger, or perhaps it all is of Kim's own making.
The conspiracy theorists have their latest clue ― an embarrassing revelation that Kim, a licensed U.S. lawyer educated at Columbia University, humiliated a foreign ministry official.
Early this month in New York, because of a mistake made by the official, Kim missed the Korea-Poland summit held on the sidelines of President Moon Jae-in's visit to the United Nations.
Kim called him into his hotel room, forced him to kneel before him and reflect on his mistake. The official was later called as a witness during a National Assembly inspection of the embassy in Washington, and pretty much confirmed what had happened without giving up too many details.
Kim suffered a blow to his reputation.
This followed another last month in which Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha said he had a verbal fight in English earlier this year, something she also confirmed during the recent Assembly session.
Their run-in took place during Moon's visit to Central Asia in April. Kim scolded ministry officials in Kang's presence for shoddy paperwork. "It is my style," Kim was quoted as telling a protesting Kang.
Kim made a rare public apology on SNS, saying that it was a result of his lack of virtue due to his excessive desire to set the best policies and help the nation cope with spiraling international relations.
|Kim Hyun-chong, right, second deputy of Cheong Wa Dae's National Security Office, with President Moon Jae-in, from left, NSO chief Chung Eui-yong, and first deputy Kim You-geun. Korea Times file|
"I will be more humble," Kim wrote. It looks like he ate his words. Main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP) floor leader Na Kyung-won demanded Kim be sacked for his inordinate disciplining of the official in Washington.
No matter. Two leaks of embarrassing revelations about Kim in as many months?!
What's going on? Let's rewind to February when Kim got his current job. It was after he successfully managed to patch up the Trump administration's troubling demand to tinker with the two countries' free trade agreement (FTA).
Kim made the original FTA deal with the U.S. as trade minister 15 years ago for the late President Roh Moon-hyun. Moon worked for Roh as chief of staff. Roh appointed Kim as ambassador to the U.N., a plum job for one who really didn't have the qualifications or experience.
Kim's father, Kim Byung-yeon, served as ambassador to Norway and Uruguay. So when he joined the NSO early this year, rumors had it that Kim had set his eye on Kang's job. Then, Kang was still trying to get a firm handle of her ministry, beleaguered by a cascade of mistakes in diplomatic protocol. They included the display of a badly rumpled national flag at an important bilateral meeting; calling Latvia a Balkan state, rather than correctly a Baltic one, in the ministry's bulletin and confusion in local language greetings during the president's overseas visits.
Although there is little evidence that links the prospect of Kim moving into the Foreign Ministry with the leaks, it is true that ministry officials were frightened by this. His aggressive style and zero-tolerance attitude precedes him, surely making them want Kang to keep the job.
|Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha. Korea Times file|
They have an ally in the LKP openly taking sides with Kang. A stalwart Rep. Kim Moo-sung triggered more than a few chuckles, when he observed during a recent National Assembly session, "I hope that Minister Kang will stay, although I think it is time she stepped down. This is only because if she leaves, Kim will come, which will make things worse."
Citing rumors in the diplomatic community, the lawmaker went on to say, "Kim overrode the opposition of his boss, NSO chief Chung Eui-yong, and Minister Kang, and persuaded President Moon to ditch the GSOMIA." The GSOMIA is the General Security of Military Information Agreement or intelligence sharing pact with Japan. Pulling out of the pact was next to unthinkable until it was announced because of strong, repeated objections by the U.S.
This in itself confirmed how influential Kim was in the foreign policy-making process. One giveaway was that Kim gave a briefing to reporters the day after NSO first deputy head Kim You-geun darted away from the podium immediately after he announced the pullout.
Perhaps, the smoking gun was what the second deputy said: "The U.S. was upset because Korea didn't follow its wishes; Korea kept the U.S. closely posted throughout and the whole affair will help upgrade the alliance." In retrospect, Kim's remarks are more frightening by Korea's U.S.-centric standards.
Washington openly and repeatedly rebuked Korea for the withdrawal both through government and private channels. Some U.S. experts forecast that the GSOMIA decision would in hindsight mark the start of the unraveling of the Korea-U.S. alliance.
Of course, Kim has an axe to grind. He went to Washington and asked the Trump administration to dissuade Tokyo from slapping economic sanctions on Korea but received the cold shoulder. Japan's sanctions followed in retaliation for Korea's Supreme Court rulings enabling Koreans to seek compensation from Japanese firms that they were forced to work for during Japan's war effort when the country was under its colonial rule.
Now, it remains to be seen whether Korea will switch the GSOMIA back on and how it could affect Kim's status. Do you see any conspiracy? I sort of do. As for Roger the rabbit, I was sure he was the killer. We know he was exonerated in the movie.
Oh Young-jin (firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com) is digital managing editor of The Korea Times.