Yoon picks U.S.-friendly lawmaker for foreign minister, closest prosecutor for justice minister

April 13, 2022

President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol nominated Rep. Park Jin, a veteran politician well versed in relations with the United States, as foreign minister Wednesday, as he announced eight Cabinet nominees, including a surprise pick of his closest prosecutor colleague Han Dong-hoon for justice minister.

Yoon also nominated Rep. Kwon Young-se, a four-term lawmaker who served as ambassador to China from 2013-2015, as unification minister, while tapping Kim Dae-ki, an economic technocrat who previously served as a senior presidential secretary, for his chief of staff.

The other nominations were:

- education minister: Kim In-chul, former president of Hankuk University of Foreign Studies

- interior minister: Lee Sang-min, former vice chief of the Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission

- environment minister: Han Wha-jin, an honorary researcher of the Korea Environment Institute

- oceans minister: Cho Seung-hwan, former head of the Korea Institute of Marine Science and Technology Promotion

- SMEs minister: Rep. Lee Young of the People Power Party

The announcement left all but two Cabinet positions filled — those of ministers of agriculture and labor — after Yoon’s nomination of eight ministers on Sunday.

President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol announces his nominations for eight Cabinet members and his chief of staff at the transition team's headquarters in Seoul on April 13, 2022. (Pool photo) (Yonhap)
This combined file photo shows eight minister nominees and the presidential chief of staff whom President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol announced on April 13, 2022 -- (clockwise from L in top two rows) Education Minister nominee Kim In-chul, Foreign Minister nominee Park Jin, Unification Minister nominee Kwon Young-se, Environment Minister nominee Han Wha-jin, Interior and Safety Minister nominee Lee Sang-min and Justice Minister nominee Han Dong-hoon. The bottom row (from L) shows Oceans and Fisheries Minister nominee Cho Seung-hwan, SMEs and Startups Minister nominee Lee Young and presidential chief of staff Kim Dae-ki. (Yonhap)

President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol announces his nominations for eight Cabinet members and his chief of staff at the transition team’s headquarters in Seoul on April 13, 2022. (Pool photo) (Yonhap)

The biggest surprise in Wednesday’s nominations was Yoon’s choice of Han for justice minister.

Han, currently vice president of the Judicial Research and Training Institute, is known for working closely with Yoon during the president-elect’s decadeslong career as a prosecutor.

Han investigated major cases with Yoon, including a massive corruption scandal that led to the impeachment and imprisonment of former President Park Geun-hye.

After President Moon Jae-in promoted Yoon to be prosecutor general, Han investigated a major corruption case involving Cho Kuk, Moon’s close aide and pick for justice minister.

The scandal caused a lot of bad blood between the Moon administration on the one hand and Yoon and Han on the other, leading to Han’s demotions.

“I determined that he is the best person to oversee judicial administration through not only the execution of law but also through planning work in judicial administration and the prosecution,” Yoon said at a press conference, flanked by the nominees. “It’s certainly not a shocking personnel choice.”

Yoon added that Han is fluent in English and experienced in international affairs, making him the ideal person to carry out his instructions to elevate the judicial system to modern and global standards.

Park, the foreign minister nominee, is a four-term lawmaker of Yoon’s People Power Party (PPP) who worked briefly for the foreign ministry after passing the foreign service exam in the 1970s. He is considered an expert on relations with the U.S.

Though he was absent from the press conference after testing positive for COVID-19, he released a statement through the foreign ministry, saying he will serve humbly, starting with the parliamentary confirmation process, “with the attitude that in foreign relations, only national interest matters.”

Kwon, the unification minister nominee, is also a four-term PPP lawmaker who served as ambassador to China during the Park Geun-hye administration and is known as one of Yoon’s closest associates.

When asked how he will approach inter-Korean relations, he said he will make practical and rational decisions based on principles.

“Efforts were made over the last five years but there wasn’t much progress in South-North relations,” he said at the press conference. “With the recent string of missile provocations and suspension of dialogue, the external environment is very unfavorable.”

All Cabinet nominees are subject to a parliamentary confirmation process, but only the prime minister requires the parliament’s approval.

Yoon has named former Prime Minister Han Duck-soo as his first prime minister.