President Moon Jae-in approved Monday the appointment of two new ministers, respectively in charge of unification matters and small and medium-sized enterprises, in a decision that split the political world sharply along party lines.
Kim Yeon-chul, a former president of the Korea Institute for National Unification, a government-funded think tank, was appointed unification minister. Park Young-sun, an incumbent lawmaker with the ruling Democratic Party, will lead the Ministry of SMEs and Startups.
New Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chul (Yonhap)
An appointment ceremony for the two new ministers along with three others who were appointed last week -- Culture Minister Park Yang-woo, Oceans Minister Moon Seong-hyeok and Interior Minister Chin Young -- took place Monday at the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae.
Four-term lawmaker Park announced her commitment to home in on the “fourth industrial revolution” and encourage innovation by small yet strong companies.
“The ministry will become a reliable supporter for the new key economic agents -- small and medium-sized enterprises -- that account for 99 percent of Korea’s private businesses and 88 percent of the nation’s employment,” she said.
During his inaugural speech at the Unification Ministry, Kim pledged to promote peace on the Korean Peninsula until the peace process reaches an irreversible stage.
“We must end the unfortunate history of the inter-Korean relations that have been repeating stop-and-go. We should lay a solid foundation for peaceful reunification by developing and institutionalizing the relationship between the South and the North,” he said.
President Moon Jae-in (center) walks along with newly appointed ministers after the appointment ceremony. From left: Moon Seong-hyeok, Noh Young-min, Kim Yeon-chul, Park Young-sun, President Moon Jae-in, Chin Young, Park Yang-woo (Yonhap)
The Moon administration appears to have forged ahead with the unification minister’s nomination because diplomatic events concerning North Korea are set to take place this week -- including President Moon’s summit with US President Donald Trump on Thursday, which will center on denuclearization.
New SMEs and Startups Minister Park Young-sun (second from left) (Yonhap)
While the appointment of the culture, oceans and interior ministers went relatively smoothly as the National Assembly published reports on the outcome of their confirmation hearings, the unification and SME ministers faced strong objections from the opposition.
After the parliament missed the Sunday deadline for adoption of the two nominees’ hearing reports, Moon pushed ahead with the appointments anyway.
Opposition lawmakers objected to the nomination of Kim Yeon-chul and Park Young-sun over a number of allegations, including Kim’s supposedly biased views on inter-Korean issues and Park’s connections to a construction firm that allegedly paid 300 million won ($262,500) for the renovation of her house.
Meanwhile, the appointment of the two ministers without the parliament’s endorsement is likely to lead to political strife down the road.
Matters that require cooperation from the opposition bloc are piling up, including labor legislation that deals with the minimum wage and could give employers wider discretion about workplace rules on overtime.
By Park Han-na (firstname.lastname@example.org