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INTERNATIONAL > East Asia & Pacific

Next South Korean ambassador is rare Japan hand in ROK’s ruling party

  • November 29, 2020
  • , Nikkei , p. 6
  • JMH Translation

The incoming South Korean Ambassador to Japan, Kang Chang-il, is one of the few Japan hands in South Korea’s progressive ruling party, the Democratic Party of Korea. The former lawmaker headed a Japan-South Korea cross-party parliamentarians’ group until May. His appointment was announced ahead of Japan’s issuance of the agrément required for the dispatch of an ambassador. A source close to South Korea’s Presidential Office explained: “The appointment reflects President Moon Jae-in’s intention to improve bilateral relations with Japan.”


Kang was born in Jeju. While studying at Seoul University, he joined a democracy movement in 1970 that aimed to bring down the administration of Park Chung-hee. Kang was once sentenced to ten years in prison for insurrection and conspiracy. After graduating, he came to Japan and earned a Ph.D. with a doctoral thesis on modern Japan’s invasion of the Korean Peninsula and Pan-Asianism.


Kang has always stayed out of the mainstream forces within the ruling party that have mainly stuck close to President Moon Jae-in. When Japan tightened its export control measures against shipments destined for South Korea in 2019, Kang was chided by the head of the party at the time for criticizing the Moon administration’s response. When Kang visited the Northern Territories under a Russian visa, the Japanese government lodged a protest.


The South Korean government has high hopes for Kang’s ability to bridge the deepening gap between the two countries over wartime labor issues. “It won’t be easy, but I believe we can find a solution through dialogue and pooling our wisdom,” Kang said during an interview with a South Korean newspaper.

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