He also picked Lee Soo-hyuck, a diplomat-turned-lawmaker, as new ambassador to the United States, as Seoul has come under growing pressure to increase its financial support for the U.S. Forces Korea and play a bigger role in regional and international security.
Snubbing some opposition parties' demand, however, Moon left key players in his national security team intact, indicating no major shift in his foreign policy direction and approach toward Pyongyang.
The reshuffle affected justice, science, agriculture, veterans affairs and gender equality ministers, according to Cheong Wa Dae. Also to be replaced are minister-grade officials to head the Fair Trade Commission, the Financial Service Commission and the Korea Communications Commission.
The nominees will face National Assembly confirmation hearings, the schedules of which have yet to be set. The choice of Cho Kuk, a law professor, as justice minister apparently reflects the president's firm commitment to sweeping reform of the prosecution to guarantee its political neutrality and grant more investigation power and authority to police.
Cho is expected to become a prime target of political attacks from the opposition bloc throughout the hearing process. The main opposition Liberty Korea Party claims that Cho, who worked as senior presidential secretary on civil affairs, is responsible for failing to properly sort out disqualified nominees to high-level posts under the Moon administration.
The shake-up came as Moon is heading toward the halfway point of his five-year tenure, which ends in May 2022. It's viewed as being aimed at injecting fresh momentum in his leadership in the face of unrelenting political controversies at home and external challenges. Some of the outgoing officials are reportedly preparing to run in the general elections slated for April 15 next year.
In the reshuffle, Cheong Wa Dae said, Moon has "focused on pushing for reform policies with consistency and stability."
"With the Cabinet shake-up today, the (creation of) the second-phase Cabinet of the Moon Jae-in administration has been effectively completed," its spokesperson, Ko Min-jung, said in a statement, adding that morality and expertise have been the top priorities in picking the nominees.'
Meanwhile, Rep. Lee of the ruling Democratic Party, a former veteran diplomat who served as Seoul's top nuclear negotiator, will replace Ambassador Cho Yoon-je serving in Washington, D.C. Lee described his new job as a "field commander" of South Korea-U.S. relations. "The role of an ambassador is to work on the diplomatic front for a country," he told reporters at the parliament.
He vowed to do his best to further the national interest sought by the government. He was a minister councilor at the South Korean Embassy in Washington from 1997~1999. He said he will likely assume the ambassadorial post in September, as a formal diplomatic consent from the U.S. is required, a process expected to take five to six weeks.
Jeong Se-hyun, former unification minister, has been chosen as new deputy chair of the presidential National Unification Advisory Council, which is a ministerial post as well.
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