Korean Millennials on Choigate: "Now Is the Time for Change"

 

On Saturday a reported one million people gathered in central Seoul to call for the resignation of their current president-- that’s 2 percent of the country’s total population.

Through investigative journalism, President Park and her confidante, Choi Soon-sil, were recently exposed at the heart of an intricate scandal involving decades of extensive corruption covered by webs of deceit.

While news outlets took to the streets of Seoul to interview protest participants and onlookers, HKC went behind closed doors and held one-on-one interviews with four Korean millennials to get in-depth analyses of ‘Choigate’; the scandal that ignited South Korea’s largest protest in decades.

Our interview panel was made up of one undergraduate student, one graduate student and two company employees. The interviews focused on these open-ended questions:

A: What are your thoughts on Choigate?
B: What do you think should be a priority moving forward?
C: Final thoughts? Message to our readers?
 
 

Yongjae Shin

Yongjae Shin is an undergraduate student at SeoulTech University majoring in Business Management. He served his mandatory military service under the Korean Augmentation to the United States Army (KATUSA) and spent two years of his childhood growing up in Boston, Massachusetts.

 
 

A: What are your thoughts on Choigate?
In Korea talking about religion and politics- it’s very sensitive. Someone could be offended. But now, only 5 percent (of South Koreans) support the president. It’s good that we can talk about politics and aim for the same goal saying, “this should be better” or “something wrong is going on”. These are positive points that this scandal brought us. I don’t know if other people think this way, but this situation and this time, I think it’s a turning point.

B: What do you think should be a priority moving forward?
I think communication is the most important thing right now. The top leaders and the big companies- it seems like those people are the only ones living in Korea if we look at the newspaper and TV. But we can’t reach them because it’s hard to interact with them. Our president is known for not answering questions at press conferences and our companies are very strict bureaucracies with very strict regulations. We have a presidential election next year so hopefully the next leader will have better communications skills so that he/she can understand how citizens are feeling.

This situation and this time, I think it’s a turning point.

C: Final thoughts? Message to our readers?
One of the reasons why talking about politics is very sensitive is because Korea is very segmented. People who live in South and people who live in the West, they have conflicts. People who are elderly and people who are young have a hard time understanding each other regarding politics. This is a good chance for those kinds of stereotypes and segmentations to be mixed up so that we can have a meaningful discussion together.

I hope people feel like citizens can change the system and the leader’s attitude. I think that's happening right now. I heard that this weekend they are having a big protest. We should show the government that this is very wrong.

 
 

Eunsun Lee

Eunsun Lee graduated with a B.A. in English Literature and Linguistics and a B.A. in Economics from Seoul National University. She is currently an HR associate at a research and investment firm in Seoul. During university, she spent a semester studying abroad at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

 
 

A: What are your thoughts on Choigate?
I think it has worked like as a means to get people together and express their own opinions on politics, but it is also deepening the distrust between the authorities and citizens. No one believes that the prosecutors are investigating the Chois and the related people fairly- they’re just acting like they’re investigating them. It’s kind of scary to watch the common absence of trust for public institutions and politicians. Especially for young college students, this issue has gotten them together on the same page.

B: What do you think should be a priority moving forward?
I think the priority should be to elect a new leader who can help wipe out the old corruption of Korean politics. It’s very deep so I don’t think it will be that simple, but I believe that the priority should be for Park to resign first. Everyone knows that she’s only a paper toy of the Choi family and other politicians. I know that people also think that since we don’t have a good alternative for the next leader, we should wait another year and prepare the new leader to take leadership. But I feel like if we wait another year for the regular presidential election, the issue is gonna fade and people are gonna forget the impact of it. Right now people are really conscious of politics and it’s a chance to change something.
 

We have a lot of problems within the country because we missed out on some very important steps.

C: Final thoughts? Message to our readers?
I think Korea went through a very unique process of developing democracy because we had a very short period of time to transit from the old age to modern age. We have a lot of problems within the country because we missed out on some very important steps. Western countries for example, from the French revolution to the modern democracy, had about 200 years of gradual development of democracy. You know, developing rights for women and rights for minorities. But Korea already began with what western countries fought for in the previous 100 years. We began with equal rights for women, but maybe our mind wasn’t ready for that. I think there was a gap between people’s political consciousness and the actual political system. Also, the Korean economy has grown too fast as we went through the military governments of the former President Park- 18 years of it. I think if Korea had gone through all of those steps like western countries, the problem wouldn’t have been this compressed.

I believe that now is the time to reflect on those missed steps. It may seem crazy to Americans and people in other countries, but this is not just the personal issue of President Park. In the bigger picture, it’s deriving from what Korea went through in the years following our independence.

 
 

Heeun Park

Heeun Park received a B.S. in Accountancy from Bentley University in Boston, Massachusetts and is currently working toward an M.S. in Information Management at KAIST in Seoul.

 

 
 

A: What are your thoughts on Choigate?
I was really surprised that this dramatic story actually happened. On the other hand, I thought there were always people who were taking advantage of the government. I just felt like, from Korean independence until now, there were these kinds of (corrupt) people. Korea became more democratic, but we still have a lot of things to solve. I don’t think I can believe the government in the future.

B: What do you think should be a priority moving forward?
I think we don’t need to replace the president yet. Because there’s only one year left, there is no point in replacing the president. But I do hope that they investigate this Choigate issue more deeply so that all the related people can be punished and so everyone can understand what happened.

I honestly feel like there is another Choigate to be revealed.

C: Final thoughts? Message to our readers?
We had a very short time to develop our democracy. Here there are more problems like this than compared to the U.S. I heard that the relationship between politicians and businessman was a big issue back in the days. After 50 or 60 years, we still have those kinds of issues. Maybe our political system is wrong, but I wonder if it’s just Korean nature. I honestly feel like there is another Choigate to be revealed.

 
 

Yushik Kim

Yushik Kim graduated with a B.A. in Business from Yonsei University and currently works in the business coordination department of a major Korean corporation in Seoul. During university, Yushik spent a semester studying abroad at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

 
 

A: What are your thoughts on Choigate?
This is a complicated issue because we don't know what the end is going to be. We don’t know what Ms. Choi has done, because we’re just starting to figure out if we may be looking at the tip of an iceberg. The natural reaction is that we’re furious. We feel like there has been a president that we did not vote for. We thought our president was Ms. Park, but it looks like our president has actually been Ms. Choi. As people of Korea we have the right to choose our leader, right? But we feel like we have lost our right- we have lost our claim to choose the president, which is against the theory of democracy.
 

The major problem is that we don’t have a plan B after she resigns.

B: What do you think should be a priority moving forward?
Nobody knows right now. Because the president has done an awful thing to the country, everybody hopes that she resigns. The major problem is that we don’t have a plan B after she resigns. We don’t know how we’re gonna try to lead this country. Some people have been asking for a national cabinet to take lead of the country and the president lowering her power to the cabinet, but we don’t know who the next leader is going to be after she resigns. That’s the big problem.

C: Final thoughts? Message to our readers?
A lot of people in Korea are regaining their interest in politics. In Korea recently the voter turnout was just awful, especially for young people. Old people have interest in politics because they were the ones that actually fought for democracy in Korea. The problem is that young people took everything for granted and they weren’t very interested in politics. The Choi situation has brought an interest to politics, and people are starting to find out that they have to fight for this. They can’t just think of politics as something that’s far away from them.

We have a saying in Korea that Koreans are hot pots.

I hope it continues, but I’m actually afraid. Korean people, we have a saying in Korea that Koreans are “hot pots”. You know how a pot heats up really fast and it cools down really fast? We tend to be very furious at a certain event and gain a lot of interest in it, but after a few years pass we all forget about what actually happened and history just tends to repeat itself, sadly.

The scary thing is that under the situation that the president of Korea does not resign, there is one year until the next presidential election. The thing that scares me is that people are afraid now, but after a year, who knows? Like people say, we might just cool down and forget about what happened and make a stupid decision in voting again.


 
 

AUTHOR

Keoni Williams is a Program Assistant at Pacific Forum CSIS; University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa alumni; and HKC editor-In-chief.