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[Op-ed] Kim Dae-jung and Kim Ha-joong

Posted December. 01, 2008 08:24,   


Unification Minister Kim Ha-joong became a diplomat in 1973 after passing the foreign service exam. He made a name for himself by being Seoul’s longest-serving ambassador to China among career diplomats. He stayed in Beijing from Oct. 2001 to March this year, when President Lee Myung-bak appointed him to head the Unification Ministry. Adding his stint as minister to China under the Roh Tae-woo administration, Kim spent a combined nine and a half years in China helping consolidate bilateral relations, earning a reputation as a China expert.

Kim has been on the fast track to success due to not only his excellent performance but also earning the trust of former President Kim Dae-jung. The former president made Kim, who is skilled at reading through his seniors’ thought and never going against their policies, assist him for two and a half years as protocol secretary and senior secretary for foreign affairs and national security, and then sent him to China as ambassador. After being picked as senior secretary for foreign affairs and national security right after the historic first inter-Korean summit in June 2000, Kim Ha-joong faithfully implemented the “sunshine policy” of engaging North Korea. Under the Roh Moo-hyun administration, he also spearheaded the engagement policy in Beijing.

He might have been embarrassed when nominated as unification minister by President Lee, who seeks to break with the policies of his predecessors. Right after his appointment, Kim Ha-joong rightly said, “Based on pragmatism, I will push for a North Korea policy that can garner public support.” At a parliamentary confirmation hearing March 10, he criticized the sunshine policy by saying, “The engagement policy of previous administrations had problems with method, speed, scope and ways to gain public consensus.” Against this background, lawmaker Park Sun-yeong of the minor conservative Liberty Forward Party told him, “You seem to have sold your soul.”

At the National Assembly Friday, Kim Ha-joong was asked on former President Kim’s comment that the Lee administration intentionally seeks to rupture inter-Korean relations. “I think he said so out of his affection and respect for inter-Korean relations,” Kim Ha-joong said. Angered at his answer, lawmakers from the ruling Grand National Party lambasted him, saying, “Are you really unification minister under the Lee administration?” To settle the situation, Kim Ha-joong backtracked from his words, saying, “The Lee administration never ruined inter-Korean relations. If former President Kim really said this, I feel sorry about it.” Hopefully Kim Ha-joong did not make his comment out of a desire to remain in his position.

Editorial Writer Gwon Sun-taek (maypole@donga.com)