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[Op-Ed] Korean Amb. to Japan’s Leave of Absence

Posted February. 21, 2009 07:44,   


Korean Ambassador to Japan Kwon Chul-hyun was appointed yesterday a ruling elder at his church in Busan. Having attended the church as a layman since 1995, he has held a number of titles and was ordained a deacon before being named an elder-elect last year. He returned home Tuesday for his appointment ceremony on leave. As a Christian, the event was probably a great honor for him. As an ambassador extraordinaire and plenipotentiary, however, he is under fire for being distracted from his duty and neglect of duty by accepting the role.

Kwon has also drawn criticism for meeting and having dinner with political bigwigs in the region after returning to Korea. He even attended an elementary school ceremony in the Busan area. At his appointment as a ruling elder, politicians in the region including President Lee Myung-bak’s brother Sang-deuk and other members of the ruling Grand National Party attended. Lee Sang-deuk delivered a congratulatory message for Kwon. For these reasons, critics say political motivation rather than religious intent was behind his return.

Despite being a third-term lawmaker in Busan’s Sasang district, Kwon failed to get a nomination from the ruling party in this year’s general elections. Thus, many suspected political strings attached when he was named ambassador to Japan. Since he received his doctorate from Japan’s Tsukuba University and served as head of the Korea-Japan Parliamentarians Union for a long time, he has strong ties to Japan. His frequent leaves from duty, however, have been criticized. It was no exception when he made an unofficial visit to Korea in November last year and met with presidential aides. At that time, rumors were rampant that he would be replaced to assume a government post. His latest visit is raising suspicion that he will run for Busan mayor next year or in the general elections in 2012.

Considering bilateral relations between Korea and Japan and Japan’s status in the global community, his post as ambassador to Tokyo is significant. Given the global economic crisis and North Korea’s saber-rattling, retaining close cooperation and coordination between Seoul and Tokyo is all the more important. Kwon’s leave deserves heavy criticism since he neglected his duty for no justifiable reason at this critical juncture. He should wisely choose between pursuing his political career and fully committing himself to his post.

Editorial Writer Lee Jin-nyong (jinnyong@donga.com)