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Opposition parties reject foreign minister nominee

Opposition parties have made clear their stance against Foreign Minister nominee Kang Kyung-wha, putting the brakes on President Moon Jae-in’s efforts to form a diplomatic lineup amid multiple foreign relations challenges.

The Liberty Korea Party, Bareun Party and People’s Party formed a united front against the nominee, who underwent a confirmation hearing Wednesday, citing ethical lapses.

“Our party concluded that it would reject Kang’s confirmation hearing report on Friday,” the People’s Party’s spokesperson Choi Myung-ghil said after a party meeting.

Foreign Minister nominee Kang Kyung-wha (Yonhap)
Foreign Minister nominee Kang Kyung-wha (Yonhap)

The main opposition Liberty Korea Party and the Bareun Party have already made clear their intention to block her appointment.

The three parties together control 167 seats of the 299-member parliament, while the ruling Democratic Party of Korea has 120 seats.

“We view that she is experienced and thought she could possibly become the first female Foreign Minister. However, it is hard to ignore the many allegations of irregularities that surround her,” the party’s interim chief Rep. Park Joo-sun said in a radio interview Thursday. “She also failed to convince lawmakers about her competence in the area of foreign policies.”

Despite their objection, the parties have no formal power to block Kang’s nomination.

Her appointment does not require the National Assembly’s approval, but President Moon Jae-in will be under political pressure if he does not heed the Assembly’s view on the nominee.

During the parliamentary scrutiny, Kang faced a series of allegations including her past false address registration, belated gift tax payment and real estate speculation. She acknowledged her responsibility for the irregularities and apologized, while rejecting the suspicion on a speculative buy of her second home in Geoje Island in South Gyeongsang Province.

After Kang’s hearing, Cheong Wa Dae expressed its continued support for the former UN ranking official, saying that despite the allegations, she is still fit for the job in the eyes of the public.

Three former victims of the Japanese military’s sexual enslavement during World War II also voiced their support to the nominee in a press conference on Thursday.

“We want Kang to become the Foreign Minister and resolve the historical problem. She promised to renegotiate the (sex slavery issue settlement) deal with Japan,” Lee Yong-soo, 90, said at a press center in Seoul.

In Wednesday’s confirmation hearing, Kang had worn the symbolic badge for “comfort women” she had received during her visit to the House of Sharing, a shelter for the victims in Gwangju on June 2. She strongly condemned the December 2015 settlement over the sex slavery issue made by the former Park Geun-hye administration with Japan, questioning its validity.

Some political pundits said that the People’s Party’s decision on Kang was made in a bid to reinforce its identity as an opposition party amid criticism that the party is “a second army” of the ruling Democratic Party, as it had voted to endorse Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon.

The party expressed its approval for the three other nominees awaiting their confirmation hearing reports: Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister nominee Kim Dong-yeon, Constitutional Court Chief nominee Kim Yi-su, and Fair Trade Commission nominee Kim Sang-jo.

As the National Assembly held the last hearing session for the justice nominee Kim, the opposition continued to take issue with his ideological disposition, citing his left-leaning streak revealed in his past rulings.

The constitutional judge once again apologized for delivering judicial punishment to the citizen protesters of a pro-democracy protest in southern city of Gwangju in 1987. He had sentenced to death Bae Yong-ju, a bus driver, as a rebel who killed four police officers after driving into a police line during the May 18 Gwangju Democratic Uprising. Bae attended the hearing session. He was not executed and was exonerated in a retrial 17 years later.

While agreeing to endorse Deputy Prime Minister Kim, the Liberty Korea Party called the rest an “Unfit Trio” that needs to resign voluntarily.

“President Moon Jae-in should be responsible for the unfit nominees and retract his choices. The new administration is failing in communication and listening to the other parties,” Floor Leader and interim chief Rep. Chung Woo-taik of the conservative group said Thursday.

By Jo He-rim (herim@heraldcorp.com)
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