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Rumors Resurface That S. Korea’s Deputy Prime Minister Is in Serious Conflict with Presidential Office
Feud over Economic Policy
Rumors Resurface That S. Korea’s Deputy Prime Minister Is in Serious Conflict with Presidential Office
  • By Jung Suk-yee
  • August 10, 2018, 11:12
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The conflicts between deputy prime minister for Economy Kim Dong-yeon (left) and presidential chief of staff for policy Jang are increasing recently.
Deputy Prime Minister for Economy Kim Dong-yeon (left) talks with Jang Ha-sung, presidential chief of staff for policy. Rumors have resurfaced that the two are in a serious conflict.

At 7:39 pm on August 3, Kim Dong-yeon, South Korea's finance minister and deputy prime minister for the economy, issued a one-page statement on a news report titled “Presidential Office Asks Kim to Stop Begging Investment, Employment from Samsung.” Kim said, “I cannot afford to waste time and energy on such a controversy.” Government officials said that the announcement took the form of a clarification but was actually Kim’s retort to the Presidential Office. In other words, he is still in conflict with Jang Ha-sung, presidential chief of staff for policy, which was triggered by the row over the minimum wage.

A rumor about a conflict between Kim and the Presidential Office, which had been put to rest for a few days, resurfaced on August 9. It came from Park Won-suk, a former lawmaker of the Justice Party. He posted the following message on Facebook on the day: “I felt that the conflict (between the presidential office and the administration) has reached a serious level. It is serious indeed.”

Park also presented specific circumstances. He said, “Recently, a rumor has been circulating about feud between the presidential office and the administration. I had a chance to briefly talk with one of the figures directly involved in the conflict a few days ago. I told him, ‘You must be very busy. I appreciate your hard work.’ His unexpected replies surprised me. I might not be able to remember all the conversations we had but I still remember his strong wordings like ‘(They) don’t even listen to the President,’ ‘(They) don’t submit reports,’ ‘It seems (they) have started to resist collectively,’ ‘I am exasperated as I cannot speak out’ and ‘I feel like quitting my job to launch an Internet media outlet and speak out.’”

Judging from the quotes, the person that Park talked to is highly likely to be Jang, as he receives reports from the cabinet ministries and he cannot speak out to the outside as a secretary of the President. Park also had a tie with Jang. Park was one of the members who established the People's Solidarity for Participatory Democracy (PSPD) and served as head of cooperation, while Jang served as the chairman of the Economic Democratization Committee of the PSPD.

The Presidential Office flatly denied such speculation. Kim Eui-kyum, spokesperson of the Presidential Office, said, “This is nothing more than speculation of journalists and it is completely wrong. Jang has never made such remarks nor met and talked with Park.”

However, Park immediately contradicted his statement. During an interview with a media outlet, he said, “I understand the Presidential Office’s denial. You need to figure out why I disclosed the story. I really don’t want to embarrass someone, but the recent changes in the economic policy tenet seem to be serious to me.”

Then, Park said bureaucrats are to blame for the current situation. He posted a comment on Facebook again, saying, “Controversy over the government’s income-led growth policy was aroused by a coalition of the economic vested interests, such as bureaucrats and chaebol. What we hear about the bureaucratic mafia is not groundless and they are not an impalpable force, either.” He added, “The government is being persuaded by the bureaucratic vested interests. If the conflict unfolds in a way that runs counter to the current government’s philosophy, expectations for the government and the ethos behind the impeachment (of former President Park Geun-hye) and candlelight vigil, it will end up in a tragedy.”

This is why there is a rumor going around in the government inside and out that the conflict between Jang and Kim may have reached the point of no return. The progressive camp’s impatience at slow reform and attempt to buck off the deputy prime minister seem to be raising its head again. An official from the administration said, “Judging from the current situation, it is difficult to take the Presidential Office’s statement at its face value.”