[Newsmaker] Steve Yoo asks to be taken back

By Korea Herald
  • Published : May 20, 2015 - 19:11
  • Updated : May 21, 2015 - 11:13

So, Steve Yoo wants to be taken back into Korea, the country he abandoned 13 years ago to avoid military service.

In an interview in Hong Kong late Tuesday night, the ’90s pop star who performed as Yoo Seung-jun ― but is now better known here as a high-profile draft-dodger ― knelt down, shed tears and apologized for his “foolish” decision in 2002 to renounce his Korean citizenship and become a U.S. citizen.

The move, made just three months before the scheduled conscription and despite his repeated promise to enlist, sparked public outrage, prompting local immigration authorities to ban him from entering the country. The ban has been in effect since then.

“I deeply apologize and am asking for forgiveness after all this time. I’m sorry I lacked the courage to apologize earlier. I did not lie or deceive you, but I regret that I did not keep my promise to you,” Yoo said on Internet TV outlet AfreecaTV. 

Steve Yoo. (Yonhap)

In his first detailed interview since the controversy, Yoo explained that he had “never” intended to evade his military service, but that a series of badly timed events and ill-advised choices had led him to accept his U.S. citizenship.

“If I could go back to early 2002, I would enlist, absolutely, without a second thought,” said Yoo.

He said he would do anything it takes to be able to set foot on Korean soil.

He revealed that he had sought to enlist last year, after learning that the upper age limit of the compulsory military service was raised to 38. But he was told that the raise from 36 to 38 only applies to those born after 1980. Yoo is born in 1976 and will turn 39 in December.

“I want to live in Korea, honorably with my family. I will accept whatever condition or method is available,” said Yoo, appealing to Korean military authorities, who demanded the exile. “I feel like I can’t live this way any longer, with my name and ethnicity. I feel that way when looking at my wife and two sons.”

Yoo was a K-pop sensation when he debuted in 1997, but his career here ended in 2002 when he chose U.S. citizenship over his Korean one. Dual citizenship was forbidden in Korea at the time.

Now married with two sons and living in China, he pursues a singing and acting career there.

Koreans’ response to Yoo seems sharply divided, with a majority still unsympathetic.

A poll of 500 Koreans by Realmeter conducted after his interview revealed that more than 60 percent of respondents opposed letting him return to Korea.

Korea’s military and immigration authorities show no sign of lenience, either.

An official at the Military Manpower Authority was quoted in local media as saying:

“Steve Yoo is a foreigner. There is no way he can join the Korean Army or regain Korean nationality now.”

By Lee Sun-young and Yoon Sarah