[Newsmaker] Moon’s civil affairs secretary at center of yet another political feud

By Choi He-suk
  • Published : Jul 23, 2019 - 17:44
  • Updated : Jul 23, 2019 - 17:44

Cho Kuk, senior secretary to the president for civil affairs and justice, is once again in the spotlight, drawing fire from conservatives and fueling a feud between the ruling and opposition blocs.

This time around, Cho -- a longtime target of the conservative opposition -- is drawing criticism for comments on social media related to Japan’s decision to impose trade restrictions in apparent retaliation over court rulings on Korean forced labor victims. 

Cho Kuk, senior secretary to the president for civil affairs and justice (right), speaks with Senior Secretary to the President for Public Communication Yoon Do-han at Monday`s senior aides meeting. Yonhap

While Cho has made over 40 posts related to Japan’s actions and related developments in Korea since June 13, a post from Saturday appears to have fanned the flames.

In the post, Cho outlined the differences between indemnification and compensation under Korean law, saying that the former means reimbursement for damage caused by illegitimate acts and the latter reimbursement for damage incurred during legitimate processes.

Cho went on to cite the findings of a committee on related issues in 2005, and 2012 and 2018 Supreme Court rulings related to the Claims Settlement Agreement of 1965.

According to Cho, the committee and the court ruled that the agreement led to compensation for victims of forced labor, but it does not nullify an individual’s rights to seek indemnification for damage.

However, comments that followed the legal details have riled conservatives.

“Denying, criticizing, distorting and condemning the South Korean government’s consistent position since 1965 and the 2012 and 2018 Supreme Court rulings are the position of the Japanese government,” Cho wrote.

“And I think that Koreans who make such claims should rightly be called the ‘pro-Japanese faction.’ The first thing the Japanese government raised when inciting an ‘economic war’ was the injustice of the Korean Supreme Court’s ruling.”

The term “pro-Japanese faction” has roots in the days before Japan’s occupation of the Korean Peninsula, when Joseon’s court was divided between those who favored relations with Japan over those with other foreign powers. The term was later used to refer to Japanese collaborators during Japan’s 35-year occupation of the peninsula.

While Cho did not single out political parties or media organizations in the post, a number of conservative politicians and publications have blamed the Moon Jae-in administration for Japan’s trade measures.

Conservatives, including the main opposition Liberty Korea Party, have been branded the “neo pro-Japanese faction” by the ruling Democratic Party.

“Cease his childish politics that obsesses over the immature pro-Japanese frame, and look for practical solutions,” Liberty Korea Party Floor Leader Rep. Na Kyung-won said Tuesday, reiterating the party’s often repeated criticism of Cheong Wa Dae and Cho.

On Monday, Liberty Korea Party Chairman Hwang Kyo-ahn accused Cheong Wa Dae of branding anyone with differing views as pro-Japanese and said the Moon administration’s policies are the same as the isolationist policy pursued by Joseon before its downfall.

The more moderate conservative opposition Bareunmirae Party is also attacking Cho, accusing him of condemning those critical of the current administration.

Cheong Wa Dae, however, appears unlikely to intervene.

“The legal aspects, I think, are well within the capacity of the civil affairs secretary to comment on as a legal professional,” a Cheong Wa Dae official said Monday, stressing that Cho’s social media comments are not the official position of the presidential office.

The official added that Cho’s social media activities are within the boundaries of his personal affairs, in which the presidential office should not intervene.

By Choi He-suk (