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Friday, December 17, 2004

replacing of diplomats, and kumeongkage keepers

A few years ago when I was in Korea there was a small commotion in the diplomatic and political circles when a retired diplomat published a text very critical on the practice of replacing diplomats all too frequently. He used the metaphor which sort hit home for me quite well: "also in a corner shop business will not be good if the keeper changes often" (구멍가게 주인도 자주 바뀌면 장사가 잘 될 리 없다).

I couldn't but think of this when I heard the news that the Joongang Ilbo chairman Hong Seok-hyun had been named ROK's new ambassador to the United States (see Oranckay's blog for details and background and about Hong being the chairman of a major newspaper company, Joongang Ilbo). By all accounts Hong will make a good ambassador, but it's been only one and a half years since Han Seung-joo was appointed to the post. Ohmynews has the Yonhap piece which tells that Han had expressed a will to spend the last year before his retirement back at his professor post, so the change wasn't unexpected, but still. The frequent uphaul of top diplomatic posts cannot but be detrimental to the interests of ROK abroad, but when domestic interests overrun the international ones, this happens.

More about the appointment of Hong Seok-hyun: some commentors at Jinbonuri suggest that it's really about Samsung. Joongang Ilbo used to belong to Samsung, but is now at least formally separate (which in the eyes of many in Korea has not been a convincing separation). Samsung would need a messenger towards Roh's government to protect the interests of the owning-managing Lee family (chairman Lee Kun-hee and son), especially the precarious position of the son because of the way Samsun properties have been transferred to him, and the maintenance of the control over the company in general. (That commentator doesn't mention how Samsung would've influenced the appointment.)

Update. Pressian has a detailed article on the background of the appointment of Hong, and how the attitude of Joongang Ilbo towards the president changed since autumn last year (haven't been reading Joongang so much that I could tell the difference). The Blue House (president's office) and Joongang leadership have been planning this move already for two months in secret. It also tells, borrowing Joonang Ilbo which quotes in turn a high-positioned government person, that in the government there are hopes that Hong could become a contender for the post of UN general secretary after the period of Kofi Annan is over in 2006.

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