Names to Watch as Potential Picks for Korean Finance Minister

South Korea's Moon Jae-in Secures 41.08% of Votes

With left-leaning Moon Jae-in elected President of South Korea, investors are now turning to who he will choose as the country’s next finance minister.

Whoever takes the role will be tasked with putting together Moon’s plan for a 10 trillion won ($8.8 billion) extra budget and directing spending to create hundreds of thousands of public sector jobs. 

Moon’s camp has indicated that fiscal policy was too tight under the previous administration and also that the government and the central bank may need to send a signal that the next move in monetary policy will be tightening, partly to curb ballooning household debt.

While the economy has shown signs of recovery on growing exports and investment, the next finance minister will be confronted with geopolitical risks that are spooking markets and protectionism from the U.S. that threatens the nation’s bilateral trade with America.

The finance minister, who will double as deputy prime minister, is appointed by the president, based on a recommendation from the prime minister. A parliamentary hearing follows, although approval by the legislature is not needed for the appointment.

While dozens of possible candidates have been suggested in the local press, here are four potential contenders whose names keep popping up:

Kim Gwang-doo

Kim Gwang-doo

Source: Institute for the Future of State
  • Kim, an economics professor at Sogang University in Seoul, was a policy adviser to the ousted Park Geun-hye and helped her devise economic pledges on lowering taxes and easing regulations.
  • He’s broken with the former president, writing in a Facebook post in April that it’s no longer appropriate to call him “Park’s teacher.”
  • During a televised speech on state-run Korea Broadcasting System last month, Kim backed Moon and emphasized the importance of the role of government over the private sector in fostering a fairer economy.
  • Kim is a former director of the Institute for the Future of State, a think tank focused on alternative policies based on the notion of progressive conservatism.

Lee Yong-seop

Lee Yong-seop

Source: Korea Institute of Future
  • Lee is an expert on tax and fiscal management, having served as the commissioner of both the Korea Customs Service and the National Tax Service during the administration of Roh Moo-hyun.
  • He recently returned to the political world as an economic adviser to Moon.
  • Lee has extensive experience in public service, having been elected to parliament twice and served as interior minister and land and transport minister.
  • He is also a former chief of the Korea Institute of Future, which studies topics including human rights, justice, public welfare and peace.

Cho Yoon-je

  • Cho, a senior adviser to the nation’s finance chief in the late 1990s, advocated for “flexible” monetary policy to prevent corporate bankruptcies.
  • He later served as an economic aide to former president Roh, who was Moon’s political mentor.
  • A columnist for local newspaper JoongAng Ilbo for over six years, Cho has pushed for a more level playing field for all businesses in the economy, the expansion of government spending and measures to curb rising property prices.
  • Cho recently retired as an economics professor at Sogang University. He earned a PhD from Stanford University.

Kim Sang-jo

  • Kim is key economic adviser to Moon who earned the nickname “Samsung sniper” for his aggressive views on curbing the power of the chaebol. He now advocates a more “predictable and rational” approach to reform the conglomerates.
  • He said in a interview with Bloomberg in April that South Korea needs an extra budget to help bolster the economy amid trade tensions with China. Fiscal spending should increase by at least 5 percent every year, he said.
  • Kim also said one way to curb debt expansion would be for the government to coordinate with the central bank to send a signal on the direction of monetary policy, which is likely to be tightening, rather than easing.
  • He’s a former executive director of the community group Solidarity for Economic Reform.
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