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Personnel reshuffles of presidential office surface as possibility

Personnel reshuffles of presidential office surface as possibility

Posted March. 29, 2023 08:11,   

Updated March. 29, 2023 08:11


Ahead of the upcoming summit meeting with Japan, Chief of Presidential Protocol Kim Il-bum stepped down on March 10 and Secretary to the President for Foreign Affairs Lee Moon-hee was replaced on Monday. Reports have emerged that the presidential office is considering a potential replacement of National Security Office Chief Kim Seong-han, who has overseen the country’s diplomatic and security policies under the Yoon Suk Yeol administration, sparking concerns among officials in the diplomatic and security sectors. While the latest developments have come ahead of critical diplomatic events such as the upcoming Korea-Japan summit and the G7 meeting slated for May, the presidential office has yet to provide a clear explanation for the potential replacement of Kim, fueling further speculation and debate.

According to reports, the primary reason for the additional personnel reshuffle by the presidential office is the failure to coordinate planning and schedules. "There have been cases where the foreign policy and national security lines have failed properly implement or accommodate the president’s intentions, and there have been recurring patterns," an official from the presidential office said.

One of the decisive triggers for the reshuffle was the confusion in coordinating the schedule for the state dinner hosted by U.S. President Joe Biden and his wife during Yoon’s visit to the United States. The U.S. proposed that K-pop group Blackpink and Lady Gaga perform together at the state dinner under the theme of “celebrating the 70th anniversary of the South Korea-U.S. alliance”. It is said that the opinion of First Lady Jill Biden, who has a great interest in K-pop and popular culture, was reflected in this proposal. “It is reported that the Korean embassy delivered more than five messages to the presidential office from the U.S. side,” an official from the ruling party said, “but the foreign policy and national security lines in Seoul were slow to respond, putting the event in jeopardy.”

“There have been constant omissions and detour reports in preparing for and coordinating the state visit, causing distrust from the president, so discussions emerged that not only secretaries, but the chief of the National Security Office might be replaced before President Yoon’s state visit,” a government official said. “It is hard to imagine two former career diplomats dropped the ball in coordinating schedules for a summit meeting with Washington,” another official said, adding, "There is a high likelihood that the missteps may have occurred from scheduling either for First Lady Kim Keon hee or Jill Biden or by putting a relatively lower priority on their ideas.”

From a fundamental point of view, it appears that the judgment is at play that maximizing national interests requires smooth communication and synergy between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the National Security Office, given the serious diplomatic and security landscape surrounding the Korean Peninsula where North Korea is cranking up its nuclear threats. This reflects the assessments not only on their poor handling in preparing for the summit meeting in Washington but on the overall lack of judgment and timely response, given that the country is faced with serious military provocations from the North showcasing various new tactical weapons beyond simple ballistic missile launches, as well as the Ukrainian crisis. “I understand that President Yoon was feeling discomfort with the cacophony of his team not only during the preparation of the Japan visit but even after,” said another official from the ruling party.

Meanwhile, the presidential office drew a firm line against the observations of an expanded personnel reshuffle. An official from the presidential office said at a briefing on Kim’s potential replacement, “It’s not true.” Another high-ranking official said, “There may be various possibilities as it has been a year since his inauguration, but it is difficult for anyone to give a clear answer at this point.” It is interpreted as an effort to prevent internal turmoil ahead of important diplomatic events such as the state visit to Washington and the G7 summit in May. Internally, some see it as a matter of timing, and there is also an atmosphere of expecting additional reshuffling in the diplomatic and security line. There are predictions that a comprehensive reshuffle of personnel will naturally occur after President Yoon’s visit to the U.S. It appears that groundwork is underway in the presidential personnel line in preparation for future cabinet reshuffles.

Kwan-Seok Jang jks@donga.com · Na-Ri Shin journari@donga.com