SEOUL, South Korea — A Korean American handpicked to head South Korea's new science and technology ministry has resigned suddenly and returned to the U.S. in a setback for the country's recently-elected president.
Jeong H. Kim, who moved to the U.S. with his parents at age 15, blamed political wrangling over the responsibilities of the science and technology ministry for his decision.
President Park Geun-hye's nomination of Kim, a former head of Bell Labs, was meant to highlight the new government's openness to overseas talent and innovation in a country where the economy is dominated by family-owned conglomerates.
But political opponents questioned Kim's loyalty to South Korea and his links to the Central Intelligence Agency as a member of its board of external advisers for four years until 2011.
Adding fuel to the loyalty doubts was the fact Kim regained his South Korean citizenship just before his nomination was announced last month and remained a dual citizen of the U.S.
He insisted at a press conference Monday that his resignation was due to the intense disagreement in parliament over the scope of the science and technology ministry which will pull together responsibilities currently scattered across several ministries including powers to regulate the media.
"I gave up everything I worked for in the United States and returned to the motherland where I was born to devote the rest of my life," Kim said in Korean at the news conference. "As I saw the controversy and confusion over the government reorganization bill, my dream to dedicate everything for the homeland was shattered."
Chang Soon Heung, a professor at Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology who served in Park's power transition committee, said South Korea's parochial politics scuttled the government's attempt to broaden the Cabinet's talent. "But such attempts should continue," he said.
Kim, 52, and his family would have faced grueling scrutiny in parliament and the media before being confirmed as minister.
"It is very regrettable that he is using the political deadlock for his exit strategy," the opposition Democratic United Party said in a statement.