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Way too skewed

July 26,2019
Cho Kuk, senior presidential secretary for civil affairs, has drawn criticism from his former colleagues at Seoul National University (SNU) law school for his controversial Facebook posts. He branded those critical of the Supreme Court’s rulings ordering Japanese companies to compensate individuals for wartime forced labor as “Chinilpa,” a derogatory Korean term for collaborators with the Japanese during the 1910-45 colonial period. On social media, law professors have pointed out where he is wrong and misleading.

First, Cho has applied black-and-white logic on the issue without sufficient knowledge on international law. One SNU professor said the 1965 Basic Treaty between Korea and Japan has been under debate for decades. The issue should be understood in the international context, but Cho does not know international law very well, the SNU professor pointed out. He implied that Cho drew such a simple and sensational conclusion because he understood the ruling from a narrow perspective.

Cho has become self-indulgent and cocky due to the show of unwavering confidence from the president over the last two years to make such a hasty judgment. One colleague said he couldn’t believe Cho could make such remarks. “It is like in the military government days when one was deemed a communist for being critical of the National Security Law.” Another colleague wrote that he wanted to believe Cho had just made a slip of the tongue out of a sudden gush of emotion.

Law professors lament a loss of scholarly conscience due to his adherence to ideology. “The people should be open to all rulings, including those from the top court,” a professor said. “A legal expert should be ready to disagree with court rulings.”

Chung Seung-yun, a professor at Pusan National University Law School who studied law with Cho, said he was appalled by the authoritative lecturing tone. Many of the criticisms aim at Cho’s self-righteousness.

They are concerned about Cho’s shift to the cabinet as the next justice minister. If appointed, he must spearhead prosecutorial reforms and a crackdown on past ills together with the new Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl. Prosecution reforms should not be guided by ideology. Given Cho’s show of narrow-mindedness and self-serving interpretations, however, many are doubtful about the reform direction.

It would be nightmarish if Cho applies his dichotomy to judiciary policies and reforms. His unilateral ways cannot convince the opposition. Placing Cho at the head of judiciary reform would be the worst possible choice.