South Korea's Blue House asks lawmakers to approve of foreign minister nominee

United Nations veteran officer Kang Kyung Wha taking an oath at her confirmation hearing in Seoul, on June 7, 2017.
United Nations veteran officer Kang Kyung Wha taking an oath at her confirmation hearing in Seoul, on June 7, 2017.PHOTO: EPA

SEOUL (REUTERS) - South Korea's presidential office on Friday (June 9) requested parliament approve President Moon Jae In's pick for foreign minister, United Nations veteran officer Kang Kyung Wha, as Moon prepares for multiple summits, starting with the United States.

"We cordially ask you to help us open a new diplomatic horizon with new leadership under nominee Kang Kyung Wha, with her experience from the foreign ministry and the United Nations," Blue House spokesman Park Soo Hyun told a media briefing. "We ask that you approve of her as quickly as possible."

Kang, who has enjoyed a long career at the United Nations and was most recently senior adviser on policy to UN Secretary-General António Guterres, does not need official parliamentary approval to become foreign minister.

The president can appoint Kang as foreign minister, but the standard procedure is for lawmakers to issue a report on possible cabinet members after a nomination hearing.

If Moon appoints Kang in the face of any opposition from other political parties it could hurt his chances of securing their support on major policy issues in parliament, where his party does not have a majority.

The minor opposition People's Party, which has the swing vote in parliament, disapproves of Kang, saying her working abilities are not enough to cover her personal flaws.

Lawmakers grilled Kang for 14 hours during her nomination hearing on Wednesday, criticising her over a number of offences, including paying long-overdue taxes just after she received her ministerial nomination, and accused her of attempting to evade them altogether.

Kang's decision to falsely register her place of residence for her child more than a decade ago was also strongly criticised as it is a criminal offence in South Korea and offenders, if found guilty, could face up to three years in prison.

Kang acknowledged some of the accusations like false residence papers and tardy tax payments, saying her actions were deeply regrettable. However, she denied others, like speculating on land her husband and daughter had purchased.

The president has struggled to appoint a squeaky-clean cabinet as his efforts to find candidates free of ethics issues have proved challenging, leading to a delay in government and policy formation.

Time is of the essence for Moon, who is currently facing a national security power vacuum as he is currently working with holdovers from the previous Park Geun Hye administration. He has yet to appoint ministers for unification, foreign affairs and national defence.

He is slated to visit US President Donald Trump in late June, while in July Moon will attend a summit meeting of the Group of 20 in Germany.