“Taking Responsibility Is One Thing, Becoming an Accomplice Is Another” Acting President Hwang Kyo-ahn Said
Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn assumed interim presidential power on Dec. 9, 2016 after the National Assembly voted in favor of impeaching President Park Geun-hye. Until the Constitutional Court finishes reviewing the legality of the impeachment, which may take up to 180 days, he will lead the government. "There are growing concerns that we are losing momentum in running state affairs amid the recent political turmoil," Hwang said in a nationally-televised address from the government complex in Seoul.
Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn assumed interim presidential power [Acting President] after the National Assembly voted in favor of impeaching scandal-ridden President Park Geun-hye. Until the Constitutional Court finishes reviewing the legality of the impeachment, which may take up to 180 days, he will lead the government. "There are growing concerns that we are losing momentum in running state affairs amid the recent political turmoil," the Acting President, Hwang Kyo-ahn, said in a nationally-televised address from the government complex in Seoul. "In this grave situation, the government must stop state affairs from going adrift and the country from suffering an administrative vacuum," said Hwang. Hwang vowed to maintain strong military readiness against North Korea's threats. "This year, North Korea has modernized its nuclear and missile weapons through a series of tests, so the government will work closely with the international community to resolve the issue, while remaining on high alert." Right after the impeachment vote, Hwang called Defense Minister Han Minkoo and asked him to pay extra attention with regards to national security. "North Korea may take advantage of our political uncertainties and undertake some sort of provocation," said Hwang. Following the national address, he also convened a "National Security Council" meeting to discuss security issues. Concerns are rampant that the leadership crisis may adversely affect the nation's diplomatic landscape. "A new administration will kick off in the United States soon, and the international atmosphere is quickly changing. I will focus efforts on protecting our national interests by maintaining close ties with our allies including Washington," said Hwang. Hwang also talked with Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se about South Korea's sanctions programs against North Korea, according to the foreign affairs ministry. The Acting President also vowed to keep a watchful eye on the overall economy so that the impeachment does not adversely impact the country's financial and foreign exchange markets. Korea will also make efforts to maintain the country's credibility on the global stage, the acting president added. "The government will listen to the public voice and consider it in leading the country," Hwang said, adding that the administration will closely communicate with the Assembly on various issues ranging from security to the people's livelihood and economic recovery. Despite his restricted role in diplomacy and personnel affairs, the Cabinet should closely monitor military readiness and economic conditions for the household and business sectors in coordination with the National Assembly.
At a news conference, Hwang offered an apology to the people, saying he felt a "deep sense of responsibility" for the crisis as Park's aide. Expressing concerns over political and economic challenges at home and abroad, he pledged to focus on "stable management" of state affairs in an "upright and transparent" manner, in line with public demands. "There are growing concerns state government is losing steam due to the recent crisis," Hwang said. "In this grave national situation, there must not be any drifting or power vacuum in state affairs for a single moment." Hwang should also mind state affairs in close consultation with the National Assembly. For President Park, it is imperative to cooperate with a special prosecutor's investigation to get to the bottom of this unsavory affair. It is lamentable that she insists on her innocence, draining national energy by engaging in dubious acts and damaging the office of the presidency. Motion to Impeach President Park Geun-hye Following the National Assembly vote the motion to impeach President Park, the opposition parties ratcheted up pressure on Hwang, saying he should also take responsibility for failing to nip the Choi Soon-sil scandal in the bud, despite warning signs that began to emerge since he became justice minister. The Prime Minister's Office, meanwhile, has been preparing for a possible Hwang leadership, exploring what to prioritize among various tasks to minimize a vacuum in state management. Their review was chiefly based on the 2004 case when Goh Kun became acting President after then-President Roh Moo-hyun was impeached, officials said. Acting President Hwang dismissed criticism that he is an "accomplice" in the corruption scandal involving President Park Geun-hye, on December 21. "I feel greatly responsible for failing to successfully aid the President," said Hwang during a parliamentary questioning session. "However, I do not agree with the candlelit rallies claiming that I am an accomplice in the scandal. Such accusations are wrong." Hwang attended the National Assembly session for the second straight day - a move to defuse growing tensions with opposition parties over his leadership role. "Taking responsibility is one thing, becoming an accomplice is another," he said. Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn, now the acting head of state, made it clear December 18 that impeached President Park Geun-hye's key diplomatic policies will remain unchanged, clashing with opposition parties which call on him to limit his role.
The thorny diplomatic issues include agreements on deploying the U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system on Korean soil and ending the dispute over Japan's sexual enslavement of Korean women during World War II, both of which have been receiving flak from opposition parties. "Key policies will remain unchanged," said an official from Hwang's office. He indicated, "Hwang will not alter existing policies pushed by President Park before her impeachment." Seoul and Washington plan to deploy the THAAD system on the Korean Peninsula by May next year, which is aimed at improving South Korea's defense capabilities against Pyongyang. The decision was announced in July, but dissenters have been claiming the deployment will hurt Seoul's relations with Beijing. Hwang attended the parliamentary session in a move to defuse growing tensions with the opposition parties over his leadership role after reversing an earlier position. Last December, Seoul and Tokyo also reached a landmark deal that centers on Japan's admission of responsibility for the wartime crimes against sex slaves. Since then, the government has been working on follow-up measures, including setting up a foundation with its main focus being placed on healing the scars and recovering the dignity of the victims. The Japanese government transferred 1 billion yen (US$9.5 million) to the foundation. Acting President Hwang Kyo-ahn ruled out the possibility of his presidential bid amid growing doubts on his interim leadership and speculation over his ambition for next year's election. Prime Minister Hwang said that the government is seeking measures to effectively handle growing uncertainties arising from the inauguration of the new administration in the United States. "There are concerns about possible renegotiations of the ROK-U.S. free trade agreement (FTA) and the defense costs of the U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) under the Donald Trump administration," said Hwang in a parliamentary questionanswer session with ministers. "Regarding the two issues, the government is bracing for all possibilities and seeking ways to settle them through various diplomatic channels." Hwang's remarks came after the U.S. president-elect strongly criticized his country's trade pact with Korea and Seoul's "free-ride on the U.S. defense budget" on the campaign trail, vowing to renegotiate the deals if he was elected president. "As far as I know, government officials contacted the Trump side more than 100 times during his election campaign and since then, we have cooperated with them," Hwang said. "President Park spoke with Trump on the phone right after the latter's election and they agreed to maintain the solid ROK-U.S. alliance. Through consultation between government and non-government sides, the government will make efforts to keep bilateral relations intact." Hwang added that the government plans to appeal to the Trump camp emphasizing the trade deal has played a key role in setting the foundation for bilateral economic cooperation. With the Constitution lacking clear guidelines on the acting president's authority, debate has been fierce over whether Hwang is entitled to personnel appointment power. Opposition legislators argue that he should play a minimal, managerial role. "I much bear in mind the discussions about whether acting president could make major appointments," said Hwang. "But I believe some of the positions, which may help plug a government vacuum and shore up the economy, inevitably need to be filled." The Acting President, Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn, said on December 14 he will actively communicate with lawmakers amid the opposition parties' criticism that he is excessively intervening in state affairs despite his temporary position. In a meeting with National Assembly Speaker Chung Sye-kyun, Hwang also said he would run the government in accordance with the people's wishes in the aftermath of President Park Geun-hye's impeachment. "It's really tough to bear a heavy responsibility when the political situation is so extreme and severe," he said in Chung's office at the National Assembly. "I will work closely to consult with Mr. Chung as well as other lawmakers to stabilize state affairs. I will also firmly uphold the people's wishes and work to implement them in state affairs in a comprehensive manner."
Acting President, Prime Minister, Hwang Kyo-ahn called for preemptive measures to contain risks for the country's economy in his first meeting with economic policymakers, since the impeachment of President Park Geun-hye. "I call on the current economic team, led by Yoo Il-ho, the deputy prime minister for economic affairs, to preemptively deal with external and internal risks, and other pending economic issues with a sense of responsibility," said Hwang during the meeting at the government complex in Seoul on December 12. Citing their vulnerability to fluctuation, Hwang also called on Financial Services Commission Chairman (FSC) Yim Jongyon to closely monitor the nation's financial and foreign exchange markets and opt for necessary measures in a timely manner. Along with growing uncertainties from international atmosphere - Brexit and donald Trupm's upset win in the U.S. presidential election - the incumbent Yoo and the newly nominated FSC chief Yim are awkwardly sharing the same position, as opposition parties that control the parliament have yet to determine whether to hold a confirmation hearing for the top economic post. Along with his instructions, Hwang said that the government plans to focus on improving the livelihoods of the socially vulnerable, including low-income senior citizens and children during the winter season. Strategy and Finance Minister Yoo Il-ho urged ministries on December 13 to execute 2017 budget spending early next year to provide the weak economy with a cushion against internal and external uncertainties. However, the finance ministry is in a dilemma about economic policies for next year as it has few options available ahead of a presidential election that might come early following the impeachment of President Park Geun-hye. "To preemptively cope with external and internal uncertainties, we should be thoroughly prepared for the execution of the budget next year. Ministries should complete preparations for major projects this year so they can be executed immediately from early next year," Yoo said a cabinet meeting. "The growth rate is expected to slow down to near zero in the fourth quarter. When considering internal and external uncertainties, it is hard to fathom the direction things will go, but there is room for more aggressive policies including supplementary budgets thanks to ample tax income," said Kim Seong-tae, an economist of Korea Development Institute (KDI). It expects the government's tax income to increase thanks to a rise in real estate and corporate taxes. As it would be difficult for the central bank to cut the key rate when the United States starts raising its rate, the government is more likely to implement aggressive fiscal policies. Given that Hwang has fully supported the Park administration from its inauguration in February 2013, he is at the center of disputes over whether he is qualified to take over. As justice minister, Hwang played a key role in disbanding the far-left Unified Progressive Party, critical of President Park, in 2014, while "effectively" wrapping up the case regarding the National Intelligence Service's intervention in the 2012 presidential election, where President Park won. In June 2015, Hwang was promoted to Prime Minister. He has actively engaged in a series of state affairs ranging from economic policy to public safety to national defense, but the opposition parties are trying to tame the increasingly assertive acting president, claiming his role should be kept to a minimum to maintain the status quo.