Go to contents

Outspoken Choi Kyung-hwan named relief pitcher of economy

Outspoken Choi Kyung-hwan named relief pitcher of economy

Posted June. 14, 2014 06:17,   


“Choi Kyung-hwan belongs to a faction of action. This is the reason the president trusts him the most.”

This is the comment by a key aide to President Park Geun-hye on Choi Kyung-hwan, deputy prime minister for economy and strategy and finance minister nominee. The aide did not hesitate to single out Choi as the optimum figure who can be outspoken to the president. “He has capability and patience to swallow and come to talk to the president again next day even after hearing scold from the president,” the aide said. “Since he has know-how in outspokenly talking to the president in a way that would not upset her, he has gotten his suggestions accepted by the president in many cases.”

When the presidential office was dragging its feet in sacking then Oceans and Fisheries Minister Yoon Jin-sook despite successive controversial remarks by her in February, Choi, then floor leader of the ruling Saenuri Party, dialed the president in person. “If a bill aimed at dismissing Yoon is submitted to us, I cannot guarantee that it will not pass the National Assembly. Since it is an anonymous vote, the bill could get approved,” in persuading the president. Then, Park decided to fire her two hours later, after holding consultations over the phone with Prime Minister Chung Hong-won.

Choi took the chairmanship of the fourth policy coordination committee while President Park was serving as chairperson of the then Grand National Party in 2004, and built up trust with the president while jointly conducting the project to relocate central government agencies to Sejong Administrative City. He also served as head of the general situation room for Park’s camp during the Grand National Party’s primary convention to select its candidate in 2007, and effectively spearheaded practical preparation for the presidential election beginning 2011, effectively serving as one-top leader.

Choi who was serving as Park’s chief of staff when approval rating of Park who was elected as the party’s standard bearer in October 2012 was moribund, and mounting voices called for the resignation of the party’s leadership, saying, “If you felt regret and being neglected, please spat on me,” and resigned as chief of staff.

After the inauguration of the Park Geun-hye administration, Choi took the party’s floor leader post, and has made efforts to legislate state agendas into law. At the political front, he has been serving as the commander of the orthodox pro-Park faction within the party. As the Cabinet, comprised primarily of bureaucrats, is facing crisis following the Sewol tragedy, he has been deployed as relief pitcher.

As knowledge economy minister, Choi formed the R&D Strategy Planning Taskforce, and recruited Hwang Chang-gyu, former president of Samsung Electronics and current chairman of KT. He did so due to his conviction that even though such efforts would not bring about cash immediately, the country should develop cash cow industries for the future.

Analysts say that his perception to the economy is that he does not oppose economic democratization but puts more emphasis on growth. He is also opposed to dismantlement of chaebol. Since he always believes that bureaucrats should not be appointed to posts in charge of market regulations given as political favor, attention is focusing on what impact he will bring about in the eradication of "bureaucrat-mafia."

Ahn Jong-beom, new senior presidential secretary for economy, is one of the lawmakers who are most trusted by Choi, and hence policy coordination between the presidential office and the Cabinet will likely be seamless.

Aged 58, born in Gyeongsang, North Gyeongsang Province; graduate of Daegu High School, graduate of economics department at Yonsei University, Ph.d. in economics from the University of Wisconsin in the U.S.; 22nd high civil service exam; deputy managing editor, Korea Economic Daily; lawmaker of the 17th, 18th and 19th National Assembly; Knowledge Economy Minister; president of Women’s Korea Basketball League; floor leader at the Saenuri Party.