May 11, 2017 2:45 pm JST

Moon's picks for top posts reflect call for unity

South Korean president seeks regional, factional balance

SOTARO SUZUKI, Nikkei staff writer

South Korean President Moon Jae-in was sworn in Wednesday. © Reuters

SEOUL -- South Korean President Moon Jae-in is keeping his pledge to unite a fractured society in mind as he staffs his new government, seeking to ensure geographical diversity as well as avoid having his closest supporters dominate his administration.

"I'll appoint talent from throughout the country," Moon said in a public address Wednesday. "I'll try to win the services of capable people regardless of whether they supported me." The three major appointments announced afterward backed up these assertions.

Moon's political support network consists of three main groups: onetime student activists following the example of the liberal government of former President Roh Moo-hyun; the close aides who worked on Moon's presidential campaign; and experts from various fields. Moon's pick for prime minister, South Jeolla Province Gov. Lee Nak-yon, is none of these.

Lee comes from the Honam region in the country's southwest, which includes South Jeolla, while Moon hails from the southeastern Yeongnam region, with which Honam has a long-standing rivalry. Lee's appointment was likely aimed at allaying worries in Honam about Moon's ascent to the presidency.

The nominee for chief of staff, Im Jong-seok, is one of the former activists. Im, who was close to Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon -- a Democratic Party of Korea member like Moon -- was tapped for his coordinating skills and wide range of personal connections. He also comes from the Honam region.

The president's core supporters, the aides who had prepared for a campaign since Moon's defeat by Park Geun-hye in the 2012 race, are expected to be deeply involved in governing going forward, with some likely to be tapped as presidential secretaries. This group skews relatively young with many people in their 40s to early 50s. A particularly notable member is Yang Jung-chul -- Moon's deputy chief of staff during the campaign, a close confidant and one of the few people with whom the usually polite Moon speaks frankly.

Moon also has close ties with progressive politicians from the so-called 386 generation -- those who were born in the 1960s and experienced the student protests of the 1980s -- and will count on them for support. Prominent among them is Democratic Party floor leader Woo Sang-ho, who helped guide Moon to victory as an adviser.

Moon's camp includes a number of political, diplomatic, security and economic experts. Among them is Moon's nominee to lead the National Intelligence Service, Suh Hoon, an agency veteran with a deep understanding of the North Korea issue.

Yonsei University professor Kim Ki-jung is expected to advise the president on foreign policy as well. Kim advocates a "two-track" approach to South Korea's relationship with Japan that keeps diplomatic and economic cooperation separate from thorny historical disputes.

Rival candidates such as centrist Ahn Cheol-soo accused Moon during the campaign of treating anyone who is not a supporter as an enemy. The president hopes to defuse such criticism by looking beyond his three main support groups for key appointments.

Yet his picks have already come under fire from the opposition. The conservative Liberty Korea Party expressed concerns Wednesday about Moon's choice of a booster of the Kaesong Industrial Complex, a joint North-South project, as chief of staff.

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