S. Korea and US can easily align denuclearization goals, new foreign minister says

Posted on : 2021-02-10 17:30 KST Modified on : 2021-02-10 17:30 KST
Chung Eui-yong takes office as S. Korea’s 39th Minister of Foreign Affairs
South Korea’s newly appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs Chung Eui-yong writes a message in the visitor’s log after paying his respects at Seoul National Cemetery in Seoul’s Dongjak neighborhood on the morning of Feb. 9. (Yonhap News)
South Korea’s newly appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs Chung Eui-yong writes a message in the visitor’s log after paying his respects at Seoul National Cemetery in Seoul’s Dongjak neighborhood on the morning of Feb. 9. (Yonhap News)

“The Korean Peninsula peace process is not a choice, but a path that we’re obligated to take,” newly appointed South Korean Minister of Foreign Affairs Chung Eui-yong said on Feb. 9.

“It’s the shared goal of South Korea and the US to achieve the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula as quickly as possible,” Chung said, adding, “I think it will be extremely easy [for South Korea and the US] to synchronize their positions.”

Chung made the comments during a welcome ceremony at the Foreign Ministry building on the morning of Feb. 9.

“South Korea currently faces a difficult diplomatic situation. Given the increasing uncertainty in international affairs, this moment requires a foreign policy that is preemptive and strategic,” he said.

Chung described his appointment as “an incredible honor” but also acknowledged being “weighed down by the awesome responsibility.”

Chung, who is returning to the Foreign Ministry after an absence of twenty years, quoted the late Park Dong-jin, a former Foreign Minister, as saying that a diplomat is “a soldier without a gun.”

Chung said that “as a diplomat of the Republic of Korea, charged with maintaining the security of the state and the nation,” it was necessary for him to have “a sense of mission equivalent to that of a soldier rushing into battle.”

Chung will likely be the last Foreign Minister to serve in the administration of South Korean President Moon Jae-in. “We will establish lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula to ensure that no more horrific wars occur in this land,” he wrote on the visitors’ log after paying his respects at Seoul National Cemetery on the morning of Feb. 9.

Chung made similar remarks while speaking to the pool of reporters at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on the same day. “Establishing lasting peace and achieving the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula are tasks we must carry out,” he said.

“These are central problems whose resolution can’t be delayed any further. We must do our best to enable the Korean Peninsula peace process to put down its roots.”

When a reporter asked how Chung intends to convince the US to resume talks with North Korea, Chung said, “There are basically no major differences between the positions of South Korea and the US. And even if there are some disagreements, I don’t think it will be a big deal to work through them because our alliance is strong.”

Chung said he intends to communicate with the US as quickly as possible.

When asked about the conflict between the US and China, one of the chief worries for South Korean foreign policymakers, Chung noted that “both countries are important to us” and said that “we may be able to help build trust” in areas “where US and Chinese interests coincide.” Such areas include climate change, fighting COVID-19 and building peace on the Korean Peninsula, he explained.

Chung declined to comment specifically on the Quad, a four-country framework consisting of the US, Japan, Australia and India that seeks to rein in China. “We are willing to work actively with any regional cooperative grouping or body, provided that that body is transparent, open, inclusive and compliant with international norms,” Chung said.

By Kim Ji-eun, staff reporter

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

Related stories