Absence of Korean envoy accused of abuse leads to bizarre briefing at Beijing embassy

Posted on : 2024-04-02 17:16 KST Modified on : 2024-04-02 17:16 KST
Ambassador Chung Jae-ho abruptly canceled his regular briefing for undisclosed “personal reasons,” leaving embassy staff to provide cover after news broke that he was accused of workplace harassment by subordinates
President Yoon Suk-yeol (left) and Ambassador to China Chung Jae-ho during the latter’s appointment ceremony on July 15, 2022, at the presidential office in Seoul. (pool photo)
President Yoon Suk-yeol (left) and Ambassador to China Chung Jae-ho during the latter’s appointment ceremony on July 15, 2022, at the presidential office in Seoul. (pool photo)

“I can’t comment on that.” “I don’t have any information.” “I can’t confirm that for you.”

Those were the only answers reporters received from staff from the South Korean Embassy in Beijing during the 46 minutes of the regular press briefing on Monday morning. 

Chung Jae-ho, the Korean ambassador to China, was supposed to host the briefing, which is held once a month. But Chung announced late on Friday afternoon that he would have to cancel his briefing for “personal reasons” and that the embassy’s minister-counselor would hold a briefing in his place. That was just one day after a complaint against Chung for bullying and mistreating them made headlines. 

With the ambassador in an awkward position because of the complaint, he appears to have cowered in the rear while his subordinates provided cover for him.

Reporters peppered embassy staff with questions about the allegations surrounding Chung.

“What is the ambassador’s position about the alleged mistreatment?”

“What are the ‘personal reasons’ the ambassador cited while canceling his briefing?”

“Considering that the ambassador has canceled the briefing, does he intend to cancel other events as well?”

“How does the Ministry of Foreign Affairs intend to investigate these allegations?”

Embassy staff, who had been abruptly asked to hold the briefing with no advance notice, could do little but awkwardly say they had no answers aside from their prepared statement.

Embassy staff couldn’t even give a clear answer about whether Chung had shown up for work that day. “I’m not sure about that; I’ll have to look into that.”

It wasn’t until late that afternoon that embassy staff said Chung had taken the morning off from work, but they didn’t disclose his reasons for doing so.

Since Chung had decided to take the morning off, an all-hands meeting held every Monday morning was also pushed back one day. Embassy operations came under considerable pressure because of the unusual steps Chung has taken, such as backing out of his press briefing, following news about his alleged mistreatment of embassy staff.

Chung attended Choongam High School, in Seoul, in the same year as Yoon and later served as a professor in the Department of Political Science and International Relations at Seoul National University. After getting into a spat with Korean correspondents in Beijing following his appointment as ambassador, Chung has been holding bizarre briefings for more than a year in which he refuses to field any questions from reporters.

According to documents submitted for a parliamentary probe last October, Chung only used the embassy’s networking budget — which is allocated to facilitate meetings with key local figures — just one time during the 10 months since his appointment as ambassador.

By Choi Hyun-june, Beijing correspondent

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

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