South Korea names new minister to handle North Korea ties

SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Tuesday nominated a veteran government official with long experience in handling ties with North Korea as his new minister in charge of handling tricky relations with the unpredictable neighbor.

The nominee to lead the Unification Ministry, Cho Myoung-gyon, has deep understanding of the new administration’s North Korea policy and the issues facing the two Koreas, the presidential office said.

Moon wants to engage North Korea in dialogue and revive stalled exchanges with the reclusive country including economic cooperation projects, saying sanctions alone have failed to rein in North Korea’s accelerating development of weapons.

But the overture for warmer ties with North Korea has been complicated by its defiance. North Korea, which tested nuclear devices twice last year, has conducted missile tests four times since Moon’s election in May.

Cho’s appointment does not need parliament’s approval but he must attend a hearing and answer questions from lawmakers.

Cho spent much of his career at the Unification Ministry, which handles North Korea ties, and was involved in preparing a 2007 summit between leaders of the two Koreas.

Cho also oversaw South Korea’s economic cooperation projects with the North, including a jointly run industrial complex in Kaesong, just north of the border.

South Korea’s former conservative government closed the industrial zone in February 2016 after North Korea tested a long-range rocket in defiance of international sanctions.

Under leader Kim Jong Un, the North has been conducting missile tests at an unprecedented pace in an effort to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of striking the mainland United States.

Later on Tuesday, Moon appointed Kim Sang-jo, a corporate reform activist, as chairman of the Korea Fair Trade Commission.

Kim has been nicknamed the “chaebol sniper” for his shareholder activist campaigns against the large family-run conglomerates known as chaebol.

The commission handles business regulations and is tasked with investigating the conglomerates’ business practices, and with cracking down on any unfair dealings such as the funneling of contracts to affiliates.

Kim’s nomination was seen as reflection of Moon’s commitment to reform the chaebols, which dominate Asia’s fourth biggest economy, in the wake of a corruption scandal that led to the ouster of his predecessor, Park Geun-hye, and the bribery trial of Samsung Group leader Jay Y. Lee.

Both Park and Lee have denied wrongdoing.

Reporting by Soyoung Kim in Seoul; Additional reporting by Jack Kim; Editing by Michael Perry, Robert Birsel