June 30, 2023
SEOUL – President Yoon Suk Yeol on Thursday nominated a new unification minister and replaced 12 vice ministers across 11 ministries in his first major reshuffle, aimed at pushing ahead with his reform drive in his second year in office.
Of the 12 vice ministers named, five are currently presidential secretaries.
The Yoon administration nominated Sungshin Women’s University professor of political science and diplomacy Kim Yong-ho as the new unification minister. Kim was also formerly a unification secretary under the conservative Lee Myung-bak administration.
Appointing a hard-liner on North Korea policy, Yoon’s nomination of Kim reflects his expectation of pursuing a “principled North Korea policy and consistent unification strategy,” according to Kim Dae-ki, the presidential chief of staff.
“I will strive to address the North Korean nuclear issue with principles and lay a foundation for improving inter-Korea relations,” the nominee said, promising to rally consensus for peaceful unification grounded in liberal democracy.
Kim is set to replace Kwon Yong-se, a four-term lawmaker who has hinted recently at plans to return to the People Power Party ahead of next year’s general elections in April.
Yoon also appointed Kim Hong-il, former chief of the Busan High Prosecutor’s Office, as the head of the Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission. With nearly 40 years of experience in the legal field, he is expected to reestablish the commission’s anti-corruption and integrity functions through principled leadership, according to the chief of staff. His appointment came as his predecessor, Jeon Hyun-hee, ended her term on Tuesday.
Yoon has directed his secretaries appointed to vice ministerial positions to “boldly confront and tackle cartels,” as indicated by a written statement released by his press secretary, Kim Eun-hye. As they commence work in their respective ministries, Yoon called for a crackdown on what he called “cartels,” entities that collude and cooperate to maximize social benefits and protect vested interests, with an aim to establish a fair and just system.
Kim told The Korea Herald that Yoon’s use of the term, “cartels,” is “broad” but it could best be exemplified by the recent controversy surrounding subsidies to non-profit organizations. Yoon recently called for the eradication of a “cartel of injustice and corruption,” informing his officials that under the previous Moon Jae-in administration, subsidies to non-profit organizations had increased by nearly 2 trillion won ($1.5 billion) due to moral hazard and tax evasion.
The ministries affected by the reshuffle include: science, foreign affairs, unification, finance, culture, agriculture, environment, labor, transportation, ocean and small and medium-sized enterprises.
On the five presidential secretaries being named vice ministers, observers said the decision appears to have been made to push ahead with the president’s reform drive, as they were sent to the Transport, Maritime, Environment and Science Ministries, facing an array of issues ranging from concerns over the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant wastewater discharge by Japan to technology developments.
While saying that relocating presidential secretaries to ministries has been a customary decision by past administrations, an anonymous senior official in Yoon’s office said, “In order to gain a driving force for reform in the second year of power, the ministries should better understand the president’s philosophy of state affairs.”
In a surprise move, Jang Mi-ran, a former weightlifter and current professor of physical education at Yongin University, was named the second vice minister of the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism. Oh Young-ju, the ambassador to Vietnam, was also appointed as the second vice minister of foreign affairs. Moon Seoung-hyun, the ambassador to Thailand, will assume the role of vice unification minister.
The list, however, didn’t include a name for the chairperson post at the Korea Communications Commission. Former KCC Chair Han Sang-hyuk was dismissed upon allegations of manipulating the ratings of TV Chosun, a right-leaning broadcaster, during the tenure of the previous left-leaning Moon Jae-in administration. Speculation suggests that Lee Dong-kwan, Yoon’s special adviser for external relations, is being considered as a potential successor to Han. However, the potential nomination of Lee recently came under fire as his son’s alleged school bullying emerged.