South Korean President Moon Jae-in yesterday nominated the head of the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff as minister of national defense.
Jeong Kyeong-doo, 58, a former fighter pilot, is to take over the Ministry of National Defense as the government seeks to reduce tension and build trust with North Korea and at a time of uncertainty over relations with its main ally, the US.
Jeong, who is to replace South Korean Minister of National Defense Song Young-moo, does not need to be confirmed by the South Korean National Assembly, but must attend a hearing and answer legislators’ questions.
He would be the nation’s first defense minister with an air force background in 24 years, local media reported.
The US is seeking to press North Korea to give up its nuclear and missile programs, and as part of that effort US President Donald Trump suspended military exercises with South Korea when he met North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in a historic summit in Singapore in June.
However, with talks between North Korea and the US stalled, there is speculation the South Korean-US exercises, which the North has long denounced as preparations to invade it, might get going again.
Trump on Wednesday said there was no reason to resume the exercises, but US Secretary of Defense James Mattis on Tuesday made remarks that were interpreted as hinting that the drills could resume.
At the same time, South Korea has been making efforts to improve ties with the North.
The ministry has said it would reduce the number of guard posts and the amount of equipment along the Demilitarized Zone on its border with the North, in line with an agreement between Moon and Kim at a summit in April.
The 1950-1953 Korean War ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty, leaving the countries still technically at war.
Moon and Kim next month plan to meet for the third time this year.
Moon also named new ministers of labor and industry.
Minister of labor designate Lee Jae-kap would be tasked with dealing with the worst market since the 2008-2010 financial crisis.
Unemployment is seen as having contributed to a plunge in Moon’s approval ratings this month to the lowest ever.