Professor Kim-Kyung Hwoi. Provided by professor Kim-Kyung Hwoi
On September 9, President Moon Jae-in officially announced Cho Kuk as the Justice Minister in South Korea. While Cho and his family members were under suspicion of corruption, President Moon pushed ahead with his plan by placing Cho close by his side. Moon stated it would set a “Bad precedent” not to appoint Cho based on doubts that have yet to be proven. Cho, a former senior presidential secretary, has now become a key figure in the Moon regime, asserting his plan to help the President to reform the prosecutor’s office.
The announcement has provoked great outrage from the public, with numerous claims that President Moon is blinded by personal relationships. Currently, Cho and his family members face serious allegations of corruption, such as embezzling money from a private equity fund, which they strongly deny, claiming that it is f alse information. Of the many suspicions regarding Cho, doubts have arisen about the validity of his daughter’s achievements, raising similarities to the Choi Soon-sil case, which astonished the entire nation.
When she was only a high school student, Cho’s daughter was registered as the primary author of a pathology research paper and received a university internship opportunity, both of which she may not have achieved on her own merits. She then became a medical school graduate at Pusan National University (PNU) with the help of Cho’s wife, who forged a presidential award. People lamented on the reality of power, wealth, and personal networks enabling privileged children to enter pre stigious universities with little effort.
What made people even more indignant was Cho’s hypocrisy. He has often emphasized the importance of fairness and frugality, and even wrote, “You don’t have to crave becoming a dragon; it is better to wish t o b e c o n t e n t and happy living as a small fry in a stream,” on his Twitter. However, his family did all they could to abuse their privilege. Consequently, according to the poll conducted by the Korean Research Institute on 1000 adults, 51% had a negative opinion of Cho. In light of this, students from Seoul National University (SNU), Korea University (KU), and PNU held candlelight protests to condemn Cho’s abuse of power.
While citizens are generally opposed to the appointment of Cho Kuk as the Justice Minister, the government seems to have shut its ears to all voices crying out for truth. Considering the significance of the position of Justice Minister, who must be a symbol of justice and fairness, some have argued that President Moon needs to reconsider the appointment and choose someone who can set a good example for the position.
One similarity of the Cho and Choi affairs is that it was their children who received some of the greatest benefits. A possible reason for this is the structure of the education system in K o r e a , w h i c h i s notoriously known for exclusiveness and discrimination. “Unlike many o t h e r educationally a d v a n c e d countries such as the United States (U.S.) or the United Kingdom (UK), universities in Korea have limited discretionary power in evaluating applicants, and the government actively interferes to suit its own tastes,” suggested Professor Kim Kyung-Hwoi (Department of Education, Sungshin Women’s University).
For instance, the admissions officer system, which is a key problem in Korean education, was first promoted by the government, not universities, who should take the primary role in selecting students. The purpose of the system was to assess the academic performance of students using a diverse range of criteria, taking the College Scholastic Ability Test (CSAT) or grade p o i n t a v e r a g e s ( G PA ) o u t o f consideration. “Thus, with the gradual absence of documents based on numerical scores, many students turned their attention to extracurricular activities to demonstrate their abilities,” argued Kim.
This encouraged Cho and many other wealthy families to exaggerate and fabricate their children’s qualifications to enter university, thus abusing the education system. Subsequently, competition has become even more intense, deepening polarization in terms of educational opportunities for students. Cho admitted this in a press briefing: “I feel sorry for the young people who had no opportunities to use the legal system that my daughter enjoyed because their parents were different from me”; Cho’s words illustrate that people with high status have more opportunities, leading to the monopolization of resources by the privileged.
To alleviate this problem, the government should initially give universities more freedom. After all, a university is a place for students to study at, so they have the right to come up with an effective and fair system to select students. The admissions officer system does not seem to be the fairest method for the students, with a privileged few taking advantage and increasing the pressure on others. Only the students’ efforts should be considered, not their money or power.
Cho Kuk has become the Justice Minister of Korea, but the controversy does not seem to be over yet. Regardless of the reason, the truth about Cho’s family should be revealed, and a genuine apology should be offered. Cho should not easily abdicate his responsibility as the Minister of Justice, a husband, a father, or a citizen of Korea. “I hope Korea can be a country that is fair to all of us,” intoned President Moon during his public message to celebrate Chuseok. The essence of the issue is clear, and a balanced perspective is needed. It only takes a minimum level of civic awareness to gain an insight into the problem: do not abuse your power for your own benefit.