Kim Jeong-hoon, the Korean-American tech entrepreneur and nominee for science minister who pulled out on Monday, says he "lost the desire to sacrifice myself for my country" when he saw political wrangling over the president's government restructuring plan.
When reporters approached Kim at the airport on Tuesday as he was leaving and asked when he intended to return, Kim responded, "I don't know."
Kim was in a way a symbol of President Park Geun-hye's key campaign pledge to create more jobs and power the country's growth by promoting the IT and communications industries. But he was also plagued by questions over his close ties to the CIA.
The public seem to have mixed feeling about his decision to throw in the towel. One side seems disgusted by Korea's political culture, which drove Kim out despite his willingness to relinquish his U.S. citizenship and serve his country of birth. He was not even given a chance of a confirmation hearing because the National Assembly failed to pass the government organization bill that would have established the post he was to take.
The other side wonders how he could quit so fast, given how seriously he claimed he had considered the task before him. It does not take any exceptional heroism to serve one's country: young men who fulfill their mandatory military duties or firefighters who brave huge risks to rescue others are proof of this.
In the U.S., the FBI, Internal Revenue Service and State Ethics Commission screen people nominated for government posts. Investigators even ask neighbors of nominees about their reputations. Compared to that, Korea’s vetting process may look a little rough and ready, but it is hardly more stringent.
If Kim was a new conscript, he would have deserted because he could not handle boot camp. The words "sacrifice" and "my country" sit oddly in his mouth.
By Chosun Ilbo columnist Jeong Woo-sang