Kang Kyung-wha

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Kang Kyung-wha
Kang in 2019
36th Minister of Foreign Affairs
In office
June 18, 2017 – February 8, 2021
PresidentMoon Jae-in
Prime MinisterLee Nak-yon
Chung Sye-kyun
Preceded byYun Byung-se
Succeeded byChung Eui-yong
Personal details
Born (1955-04-07) April 7, 1955 (age 69)
Seoul, South Korea
SpouseLee Yill-byung
Children1 son and 2 daughters[1]
Alma materYonsei University
University of Massachusetts, Amherst
Korean name
Revised RomanizationGang Gyeong(-)hwa
McCune–ReischauerKang Kyŏnghwa

Kang Kyung-wha (Korean강경화; Hanja康京和; born April 7, 1955) is a South Korean diplomat and politician who served as the first female Foreign Minister of South Korea under President Moon Jae-in from 2017 to 2021 as well as the first woman nominated for and appointed to the position.[2][3] She is also the first Korean woman to hold a high-level position in the United Nations. Previously, Kang was the first non-exam-taker to become a director-general in the ministry. She is the first South Korean foreign minister to join the official South Korean delegation for the inter-Korean summit as well as to visit Pyongyang, the North Korean capital. Kang is the current president and CEO of the Asia Society.[4]

Early life and education[edit]

Kang was born in Seoul, South Korea. Her father, born in Pyongyang, North Korea, was a famous announcer of South Korea's Korean Broadcasting System as well as a member of its second board of directors. Her family moved to Washington, D.C. following her father's career at Voice of America in 1964 and came back to Seoul after two years.

Kang attended Ewha Girls' High School in Seoul. She graduated from Yonsei University with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Diplomacy.[5] She obtained an M.A. in mass communication and a Ph.D. defending a doctoral thesis on intercultural communication from University of Massachusetts Amherst, United States.[6]


Early career[edit]

In the beginning of her career, Kang worked for the Korean Broadcasting System[7] - just like her father - as a producer of English Service Division of Radio Korea. As an associate professor, she lectured at Cleveland State University, Ohio and Sejong University, Seoul. Between and after her career in universities, she assisted several Speakers of the National Assembly of South Korea[7] on global issues in the fields of human rights, women's advancement and parliamentary diplomacy as Secretary for International Relations and an interpreter.

She was also active in women's organizations in Korea, serving as the spokeswoman of the Korean Women's NGO Committee for the Beijing Conference in 1995, a member of the International Relations Committee of the Korean National Council of Women, and a director of Korean Institute for Women and Politics.

In the 1990s Kang was the English voice of Seoul subway system.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade[edit]

In 1998 Kang joined the Korean Foreign Service, without ever having passed the Foreign Service Exam, as the acting Senior Research Officer of Foreign Ministry's Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security.[5] In 1999 she was specially employed as Senior Advisor and Principal Speechwriter to the Foreign Minister and Principal Interpreter to the President. While working as the president's interpreter for three years, she gained then-President Kim's confidence due to her interpretation during his phone call with U.S. president Clinton.

From September 2001 to July 2005, Kang was Minister-Counselor and later Minister at Permanent Mission of the Republic of Korea to the United Nations.[5] During that time, she chaired the Commission on the Status of Women for its 48th and 49th session.[8] Before and after working at the Permanent Mission, she worked as Deputy Director-General and Director General for the International Organisations of the Foreign Ministry. Later, she was appointed as Ambassador-at-Large for Global Affairs of the Ministry.

United Nations[edit]

Kang held key roles in the United Nations under three consecutive Secretaries-General, from Kofi Annan and Ban Ki-moon to the current officeholder, Antonio Guterres. In September 2006, Kofi Annan appointed her as Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, equivalent to Assistant Secretary-General, after seeing her potential when she chaired the UN commission on women.[8] She was appointed by Ban Ki-moon as Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator and Assistant Secretary-General for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in March 2013.[5] In October 2016, she was appointed by then-Secretary-General-elect, António Guterres as Chief of the Secretary-General-designate's Transition Team. Later in February 2017, she continued to work with Secretary-General Guterres as his Senior Advisor on Policy, equivalent to Under-Secretary-General, before resigning for the foreign minister of South Korea.[9]


Kang with British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt in 2018.
Kang with Retno Marsudi, Federica Mogherini, Julie Bishop, and Chrystia Freeland at the ASEAN Regional Forum Retreat in Singapore on August 4, 2018.

After an announcement of her nomination by the Blue House in May 2017, Kang faced hard opposition from the opposition parties before and during her nomination hearing at the National Assembly due to allegations, such as address fraud[10] and the nationality of her oldest daughter. Opposition was partly composed of claims that she lacks experience dealing directly with global powers - the U.S. in particular. During her hearing, she asked for understanding given that she was unable to manage her children in detail as a working parent, did not share finances with her husband to support her parents as their oldest child, and lived abroad for a long time. With public statements of support from a trade union of the Ministry,[11] Japanese military sex slaves, or widely known as "comfort women",[12] Korea NGO Council for Overseas Development Cooperation, and her eleven predecessors,[13] respectively, along with the public support of 60% and more, President Moon appointed her as his first foreign minister, a post that requires a nomination hearing but not the expressed approval from the legislature, in June 2017.[14] With her and other female cabinet members, President Moon was able to keep his election promise to fill over 30% of his cabinet with women.[15]

During her talks with Hansung University students, she revealed that she had never met President Moon in person before her conferment ceremony at the Blue House.[16]

She is the third head of the ministry to attend the high-level segment of the regular sessions of the Human Rights Council after her predecessors Ban Ki-moon and Yun Byung-se. As of 2019 she is the first Korean foreign minister to make keynote speech at every regular session of the Council during their tenure.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Israel has imposed an entry ban on South Koreans and foreign tourists who stayed in South Korea in the past 14 days.[17][18][19] Kang has described Israel's response as "excessive".[20]

As of December 2020, Kang is the only cabinet minister - and one of four at a ministerial level along with Hong Nam-ki, Suh Hoon and Kim Sang-jo - to continue to serve President Moon from the beginning of his presidency in 2017.[21][22] On January 20, 2021, President Moon nominated his first director of National Security Office, Chung Eui-yong, to replace Kang.[23][24]


In February 2021, Kang became the last member of President Moon's first cabinet formed in 2017 to be replaced after more than three and a half years.[25] A month later, she joined Park Young-sun's campaign in Seoul mayoral by-election as its chair of international cooperation committee.[26]

In August 2021, Kang was appointed a distinguished professor emeritus at the Graduate School of International Studies at Ewha Womans University,[27] the first university she visited as the country's foreign minister in 2018.[28]

In October 2021, Kang announced her candidacy for the next Secretary General of the International Labour Organization.[29][30] In the final vote, she came in only fourth; the position eventually went to Houngbo.[31]

Other activities[edit]

Personal life[edit]

She is married to Lee Yill-byung, an emeritus professor of computer science at Yonsei University,[34] and has three children: two daughters and a son. In 2000, when Kang moved to Seoul from the US, she illegally forged her residency to get her daughter to attend a prestigious high school in Seoul. In 2017 she admitted to this address fraud, but the statute of limitation for such a misdemeanor had already expired.[35]


  • Special Award at the 11th Annual Korea Women Leaders Awards by the Young Women's Christian Association of Korea (2013)[36]
  • South Korea Order of Service Merit by the government of South Korea (2006)[36]
  • Woman of the Year Award by the Korean National Council of Women (2006)[36]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Kang Kyung-wha
  2. ^ Lee, Jiyeun (June 18, 2017). "South Korea's Moon Appoints First Female Foreign Minister". Bloomberg News. Retrieved June 27, 2017.
  3. ^ Min-kyung, Jung (June 6, 2017), "Foreign Minister prospects darken", Korea Herald, retrieved June 6, 2017
  4. ^ "Asia Society names Dr. Kyung-wha Kang, South Korea's former Minister of Foreign Affairs, as President and CEO". Asia Society. Retrieved January 24, 2024.
  5. ^ a b c d "Secretary-General Appoints Kyung-wha Kang of Republic of Korea Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs". United Nations. March 18, 2013.
  6. ^ "Former Deputy High Commissioner". www.ohchr.org. Archived from the original on October 16, 2015.
  7. ^ a b "Minister of Foreign Affairs - Kang Kyung-wha". Minister of Foreign Affairs. Archived from the original on June 27, 2017. Retrieved June 27, 2017.
  8. ^ a b "Secretary-General appoints Kyung-wha Kang of Republic of Korea Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights". United Nations. September 18, 2006.
  9. ^ "Secretary-General Thanks Departing Special Adviser on Policy for Years of Service, Hailing Kyung-Wha Kang as 'a Voice of the Voiceless' | Meetings Coverage and Press Releases".
  10. ^ "S. Korean diplomat apologizes for using fake address for daughter".
  11. ^ "외교부 공무원 노조, "강경화에게 기회를"(전문)". June 8, 2017.
  12. ^ "위안부 피해자들이 강경화 지지선언을 했다". June 8, 2017.
  13. ^ "FM nominee gets flood of support". June 11, 2017.
  14. ^ "Moon appoints Kang Kyung-wha despite resistance". June 18, 2017.
  15. ^ "[Graphic News] Moon fills over 30 percent of Cabinet with women". July 26, 2017.
  16. ^ 대한민국외교부 (May 1, 2019), [라이브 모파] 한성인, 강경화 외교부 장관과 '평화'를 이야기 하다, archived from the original on December 21, 2021, retrieved May 2, 2019
  17. ^ "South Korean gov't summons Israeli diplomat following Israel travel ban". The Jerusalem Post. February 23, 2020.
  18. ^ staff, T. O. I. (February 24, 2020). "South Koreans being shipped out of Israel on special flights amid virus fears". www.timesofisrael.com.
  19. ^ "Israel is Treating Tourists Like Coronavirus". Israel Today. February 26, 2020.
  20. ^ "FM calls Israel's entry ban on Koreans over new coronavirus 'excessive'". The Korea Herald. February 25, 2020.
  21. ^ 김, 동현 (December 4, 2020). "'원년멤버' 유일 생존 강경화…美정권교체기 외교안정 고려한 듯". Yonhap News Agency (in Korean). Retrieved December 5, 2020.
  22. ^ "[GraphicNews] 4개 부처 개각.. 文정부 '원년 멤버' 강경화만 남았다". 시사이코노미TV (in Korean). December 4, 2020. Retrieved December 28, 2020.
  23. ^ Song, Sang-ho (February 8, 2021). "FM Kang leaves office after years of daunting diplomatic tasks". Yonhap News Agency. Retrieved February 8, 2021.
  24. ^ Ahn, Sung-mi (February 8, 2021). "Moon appoints new foreign minister". The Korea Herald. Retrieved February 8, 2021.
  25. ^ "'최장수 장관' 강경화 교체…靑 "美 바이든 출범 맞춰 외교 재정렬"". ChosunBiz (in Korean). April 23, 2021. Retrieved September 2, 2021.
  26. ^ "강경화 손잡은 박영선 "서울, 세계도시 표준으로 거듭날 것"". The Korea Economic Daily (in Korean). March 11, 2021. Retrieved September 2, 2021.
  27. ^ 주, 경돈 (August 3, 2021). "Ex-Foreign Minister Kang to teach at Ewha Womans Univ". Yonhap News Agency. Retrieved September 2, 2021.
  28. ^ "Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha Delivered a Special Lecture at Ewha Womans University". www.ewha.ac.kr. Retrieved September 2, 2021.
  29. ^ 김, 승연 (October 1, 2021). "Former Foreign Minister Kang makes bid for ILO top job". Yonhap News Agency. Retrieved October 1, 2021.
  30. ^ "Appointment of the Director-General of the ILO". ilo.org. Archived from the original on November 23, 2021. Retrieved November 23, 2021.
  31. ^ Stéphane Bussard (25 March 2022), Gilbert Houngbo, premier Africain élu directeur général de l’Organisation internationale du travail Le Temps.
  32. ^ "Asia Society names Dr. Kyung-wha Kang, South Korea's former Minister of Foreign Affairs, as President and CEO". Asia Society. January 24, 2024. Retrieved May 3, 2024.
  33. ^ Crisis Group Welcomes Eight New Trustees to its Board International Crisis Group (ICG), press release of 19 January 2023.
  34. ^ "연세대학교 컴퓨터과학과". cs.yonsei.ac.kr. Retrieved April 30, 2019.
  35. ^ "강경화 "아이가 걱정스러워서, 대단히 죄송"…위장전입 사과". news1.kr (in Korean). June 7, 2017.
  36. ^ a b c "ProfileMinistry of Foreign Affairs, Republic of Korea".

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by Minister of Foreign Affairs
Succeeded by