|Then-South Korean First Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Cho Hyun-dong, right, shakes hands with United States Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman during their meeting in Tokyo, Japan, Oct. 25, 2022. Courtesy of Ministry of Foreign Affairs|
Shakeup of Yoon's national security team in offing
By Nam Hyun-woo
First Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Cho Hyun-dong was nominated as the new South Korean ambassador to the United States. He will fill the vacancy created by the appointment of former ambassador Cho Tae-yong to the new national security director role, as he officially took the position Thursday.
The move signals a significant shakeup in President Yoon Suk Yeol's national security team, which was caused due to confusion over a U.S. proposal ― to South Korea ― to host a BLACKPINK performance at a state dinner between Yoon and U.S. President Joe Biden in Washington next month. This misunderstanding seems to suggest that negligence, miscommunication and confusion have been growing between the presidential office and the foreign ministry, forcing Yoon to take measures to rebuild his team.
According to government officials, Thursday, Yoon nominated the first vice minister as the new ambassador to the U.S. and plans to request Washington to receive him as the head of Seoul's mission to the country.
Cho is known for his expertise in Seoul-Washington relations and North Korean nuclear issues. He spent most of his career at the foreign ministry, serving as the deputy minister for planning and coordination, deputy chief of mission of the South Korean embassy in the U.S. and minister-counselor at the South Korean embassy in India. However, this will be the first time for the nominee to be an ambassador.
The new ambassador also faces the urgent task of preparing Yoon's state visit and summit with Biden on April 26. As Yoon's diplomatic team undergoes an abrupt shakeup just a month before the state visit, the new ambassador is anticipated to focus on setting up summit agendas and fine-tuning the details of scheduled events during the visit.
Along with the new ambassador nominee, the new Director of National Security Cho Tae-yong will also be expected to concentrate on preparations for Yoon's U.S. visit.
|New Director of National Security Cho Tae-yong speaks during a meeting with reporters at the presidential office in Yongsan District, Seoul, Thursday. Yonhap|
Yoon granted the appointment certificate to the new top national security aide on Thursday, a day after Kim Sung-han resigned and the office nominated Cho as his successor.
"I sense grave responsibilities for taking this job in this critical time," Cho, the new director of national security, told reporters.
"I believe the Yoon administration has successfully laid its cornerstone to achieve its goal of becoming a global pivotal state and my job will be building a good house on the cornerstone to accomplish the goal," he said, stressing the importance of the teamwork of presidential aides and staffers.
The nominations of the new national security director and new ambassador came on the heels of controversial resignations by the former national security director and two foreign affairs-related presidential secretaries ― protocol secretary Kim Il-bum and foreign affairs secretary Lee Moon-hee ― earlier this month.
Although the presidential office is not officially confirming the reasons behind their resignations, multiple sources at the office said negligence, miscommunication and confusion in handling the president's diplomatic activities had been repeated too often, leading Yoon to decide to rebuild his diplomatic team.
Two sources said there have been multiple cases of the president not being informed about diplomatic events and activities suggested by the U.S. They also said there have been difficulties in communication among the Office of National Security, Yoon's other secretaries and the foreign ministry.
One of the critical cases for Yoon to no longer trust his outgoing aides had to do with a performance by the K-pop girl group, BLACKPINK. The sources said that the U.S. proposed a joint performance by BLACKPINK and American singer-songwriter Lady Gaga during Yoon's state visit, but this was not included in Seoul's reports to Yoon, which reportedly triggered the president to lose his temper with his diplomatic aides.
Reportedly, the new foreign affairs secretary Lee Choong-myon is now taking over the work from his predecessor and the position of protocol secretary is now being conducted by a deputy secretary who has a background in performance and event planning.
As a consequence of the latest replacements, chances are high for a major shakeup in Yoon's national security team to take place in the near future, especially ahead of the general election in April next year.
Minister of Foreign Affairs Park Jin and Minister of Unification Kwon Young-se are incumbent lawmakers of the ruling People Power Party. A public official has to resign from his or her government post at least 90 days before running for a general election.
The two ministers are anticipated to return to the National Assembly at least three months before the election. However, this may take place earlier than expected, as Yoon began reshuffling his diplomatic team in the wake of the BLACKPINK incident.
Along with them, speculation is also growing over Yoon replacing the defense minister and Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, reprimanding them for the military's slack response to North Korea's drone incursions last year.