Don’t go it alone

Cheong Wa Dae should not mo­nop­o­lize de­ci­sion-mak­ing

The Korea Times - - OPINION -

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 Jaein’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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