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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Sept. 20)

Politics 07:05 September 20, 2019

Don't go it alone
: Cheong Wa Dae should not monopolize decision-making

A quarrel between Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha and National Security Office (NSO) deputy director Kim Hyun-chong reveals the discord not only between them, but also between her ministry and the presidential office. This explains why we should not underestimate this problem.

The quarrel was made public when Kang attended a committee session at the National Assembly, Monday. Asked about whether there was a spat with Kim, the top diplomat did not deny it. Actually the verbal clash between them took place during President Moon Jae-in's visit to Central Asia in April.

Kim reportedly reprimanded a foreign ministry employee in Kang's presence for some typos and grammar errors in a report they had written. Instantly Kang told Kim not to yell at the official, but Kim retorted, "It's my style." The two engaged in a harsh war of words, even in English.

Any argument can occur between top officials in the process of policy discussions and consultations. Heated debates and even quarrels are oftentimes required to work out better policies. In this sense, the narrative between Kang and Kim might not have drawn any attention from lawmakers, let alone the public.

Nevertheless, the reason why some legislators raise the issue is certainly that the quarrel was not seen as business as usual. Some pundits note that the argument between Kang and Kim reflected a growing discord between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the NSO affiliated with Cheong Wa Dae.

In other words, Kang appeared to have exposed her dissatisfaction at the NSO taking the lead in the diplomatic and security policymaking process, while sidelining the ministry. The NSO has come under criticism for ignoring the ministry in making major foreign policy decisions.

Following media reports critical of the episode, Kim took to Twitter, Wednesday, to make an apologetic statement, saying: "There are concerns about the differences between officials in charge of foreign affairs and national security." He said he lost his composure while trying too hard to establish the best policy in the whirlwind of international affairs. He promised to be "more humble and work harder."

A presidential spokeswoman warned the media and the public not to read too much into the quarrel. Yet, it is still hard to brush aside the undercurrent of conflict between the ministry and the NSO because the presidential office is controlling major foreign policy issues. Regrettably, the ministry has not had much say in the decision-making process. It has been forced to implement policies set by Cheong Wa Dae.

The real problem is that the presidential office has monopolized all decision-making not only in diplomacy and security, but also in other areas such as the economy, defense, culture and education. This seems to have arisen from Moon's leadership style of "I make all the decisions and you should follow my instructions."

The presidential office should not try to go it alone. It should work together with ministries and respect their decision-making rights. Otherwise it cannot tackle important issues such as inter-Korean ties, the denuclearization of North Korea, the strengthening of the Seoul-Washington alliance and the ongoing trade dispute with Japan.

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