South Korea's Moon taps Air Force chief to head Joint Chiefs of Staff

SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Tuesday named Air Force General Jeong Kyeong-doo to lead the country’s Joint Chiefs of Staff amid tensions with North Korea, which continues to carry out provocations in defiance of international sanctions.

Jeong, 57, is a former fighter pilot and should he be officially appointed by the president after a parliamentary hearing, he will be the first air force official to head the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 23 years.

The hearing will serve to thoroughly scrutinize whether Jeong is morally qualified enough to serve, but parliamentary approval is not necessary for Moon to appoint him.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff top spot has previously been dominated by the army. Jeong will replace outgoing Army General Lee Sun-jin, who is set to retire after two years.

Experts and media reports said Tuesday’s nomination was largely seen as an attempt to reform the country’s armed forces which have been riddled for years with scandals involving graft and abuse of soldiers.

The nomination comes a few weeks ahead of annual joint military exercises between South Korea and the United States and follows Pyongyang’s threat of retaliation after new U.N. sanctions were announced in response to its latest intercontinental ballistic missile tests last month.

Reporting by Haejin Choi; Editing by Christine Kim and Michael Perry