‘Presidential office's decision’: Sudden oil announcement leaves Korea’s Energy Ministry flustered

Posted on : 2024-06-04 17:08 KST Modified on : 2024-06-04 17:26 KST
The ministry’s spokesperson’s office only became that the energy minister was attending the president’s briefing about an hour beforehand
President Yoon Suk-yeol heads to the podium in the presidential office’s briefing room on June 3, 2024, as Energy Minister Ahn Duk-geun follows. (Yonhap)
President Yoon Suk-yeol heads to the podium in the presidential office’s briefing room on June 3, 2024, as Energy Minister Ahn Duk-geun follows. (Yonhap)

President Yoon Suk-yeol’s sudden announcement that oil and gas reserves may be nestled off the country’s southeastern coast on Monday appeared to catch even Korea’s Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy off guard.

At 9 am on Monday, the presidential office indicated to its press corps that the president was going to make an announcement related to national affairs. The office did not indicate the subject and time of the potential announcement. The reporters did not know the time of the announcement until eight minutes before it happened at 10 am. Broadcasters scrambled to prepare for a live broadcast. The president had been scheduled for summits with various African leaders on that day, starting at 9 am. The president made his announcement from the presidential office’s briefing room for about four minutes and took off without answering any questions. 

The Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy, the government agency that handles matters related to energy development and production, was abuzz. 

It was not until 9 am that the office of the ministry’s spokesperson became aware that Energy Minister Ahn Duk-geun was in attendance at Yoon’s briefing. At 9:40, the office told reporters that it was “ascertaining the details.”

The ministry said only that the surprise announcement was “a decision by the presidential office.”

Ahn explained that he had been “in close communication with the presidential office on the results finalized last week” and had “reported the exploration findings to the president personally yesterday [June 2].”

Sources in and around the presidential office and Trade, Industry and Energy Ministry attributed the decision to keep the matter confidential and make the announcement without any prior notice as being based on concerns that the leaking of inaccurate information could have an impact on the investment market.

Share prices for listed companies connected with resource development showed a sharp increase in value.

The Korea Gas Corp., the Korea National Oil Corp., and Hung-Gu Oil all finished the day at their price ceilings. Joong Ang Enervis, another company in the petroleum, energy, and steel category, was up by 29.5% from the previous trading day.

Other companies that finished with sharp rises included Daedong Steel (27.91%), Histeel (19.91%), and Daesung Industrial (15.00%).

Democratic Party senior spokesperson Lee Hae-sik said, “It strongly seems that this announcement was intended to turn around [Yoon’s] declining approval numbers.”

In a Facebook post, New Reform Party lawmaker Her Eun-a wrote, “Apparently the topic of the president’s first state affairs briefing was ‘petroleum in the waters off Yeongil Bay.’ [This is our] out-of-left-field president.”

“What a cowardly president — taking center stage where there is something to play up and hiding completely when there are things to take responsibility for and reflect on,” she continued.

By Lee Seung-jun, staff reporter; Choi Woo-ri, staff reporter; Cho Kye-wan, staff reporter

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

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