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The Peninsula

Cabinet Reshuffle to Reflect Focus on North Korea

Published February 2, 2021
Author: Korea View

What Happened

  • On January 20, Moon Jae-in announced he would replace Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha with special advisor Chung Eui-yong.
  • There has been some speculation from the opposition People Power Party that Kang’s dismissal is in response to negative comments towards the incumbent foreign minister from Pyongyang.
  • The Blue House stated that Chung was nominated to facilitate a closer relationship with the Biden administration based on his diplomatic expertise.

Implications: Moon’s cabinet reshuffle may signal his intention to concentrate on the Korean peace process in his final year in office. Chung had acted as a go-between for the Singapore and Hanoi Summits between President Trump and Kim Jong-un. While his effectiveness at these engagements has been brought into question, the Moon administration sees Chung’s experience in dealing with both the United States and North Korea as an asset. Moon further emphasized his intention to cooperate with the United States in dialogue with North Korea in both his New Year’s address and his opening remarks to the National Security Council meeting. While some suspect that Moon was pressured to replace Kang because of North Korean pressure, this is unlikely to be the case as Pyongyang has also been critical of Chung.

Context: Both Kang and Chung were chosen for Moon’s cabinet at the beginning of his administration for their foreign affairs expertise; Chung’s background is in diplomacy, while Kang’s is in multilateral institutions. Chung is a career diplomat with experience working in Israel and Geneva and was appointed as the head of the National Security Office by Moon Jae-in in 2017. He also played a large role in the Singapore and Hanoi summits, going between and delivering messages for North Korea and the United States. However, detractors have also criticized Chung for misrepresenting U.S. and DPRK positions to respective government, and have partly attributed the breakdown of the Hanoi summit to him.

This briefing comes from Korea View, a weekly newsletter published by the Korea Economic Institute. Korea View aims to cover developments that reveal trends on the Korean Peninsula but receive little attention in the United States. If you would like to sign up, please find the online form here.

Korea View was edited by Yong Kwon with the help of Melissa Cho and Alexandra Langford. Picture from the flickr account of Joint Inter-Korean Summit Press Corps – NKNEWS

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