The open society and its enemies in South Korea: From right authoritarianism — to left? - AEI



Event Material


Event Summary

On Tuesday at AEI, experts gathered to discuss often overlooked issues of domestic politics in South Korea. AEI’s Nicholas Eberstadt delivered opening remarks, charting the course of the discussion toward issues of freedom of speech and repression of political criticism.

The panel addressed challenges to South Korean democracy, primarily the lack of essential protections surrounding freedom of speech, including the government’s hostile takeover of news agencies and exploitation of libel laws. Following the discussion, Sung-Yoon Lee from Tufts University provided a comprehensive historical context for these issues. He emphasized willful denial of North Korean human rights violations and a political culture in which leaders consider themselves above reproach, which have been persistent in every successive South Korean government, including the current administration.

In closing, the panelists emphasized that democratic institutions on their own are not enough and that protection of freedom of speech is necessary to set a liberal democracy apart from a people’s democracy. Only when the South Korean government addresses 70 years of human rights abuses by the North Korean government will we see a truly free government.

— Sara Morrell

Event Description

The North Korean nuclear crisis and the US–Republic of Korea (ROK) military alliance dominate international coverage of the Korean Peninsula, but what about South Korea itself? South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s administration has reportedly clamped down on media outlets, restricted freedom of speech, and encouraged partisanship in the judiciary and civil service.

Is the ROK government on a path to limit freedoms in the South? Or is this all just politics as usual in a democracy with different rules from our own? Please join AEI for a discussion on the domestic politics of South Korea and their implications for the ROK, the US, and North Korea.

Join the conversation on social media with @AEI on Twitter and Facebook.


2:45 PM

3:00 PM
Panel: Toward illiberal democracy? South Korea under the Moon administration

David Maxwell, Foundation for Defense of Democracy
Tara O, Pacific Forum; Institute for Corean-America Studies
Joshua Stanton, One Free Korea

Nicholas Eberstadt, AEI

4:10 PM
Conversation: The open society and its enemies in Korea: Reckoning with the ironies of history

Nicholas Eberstadt, AEI
Sung-Yoon Lee, Tufts University

5:00 PM

Event Contact Information

For more information, please contact Cecilia Joy Pérez at [email protected], 202.862.7190.

Media Contact Information

For media inquiries or to register a camera crew, please contact [email protected], 202.862.5829.

Speaker Biographies

Nicholas Eberstadt holds the Henry Wendt Chair in Political Economy at AEI, where he researches and writes extensively on demographics and economic development generally, and more specifically on international security in the Korean Peninsula and Asia. Domestically, he focuses on poverty and social well-being. Dr. Eberstadt is also a senior adviser to the National Bureau of Asian Research (NBR). His many books and monographs include “Poverty in China” (International Development Institute, 1979); “The Tyranny of Numbers: Mismeasurement and Misrule” (AEI Press, 1995); “The End of North Korea” (AEI Press, 1999); “The Poverty of the ‘Poverty Rate’: Measure and Mismeasure of Want in Modern America” (AEI Press, 2008); and “Russia’s Peacetime Demographic Crisis: Dimensions, Causes, Implications” (NBR, 2010). His latest book is “Men Without Work: America’s Invisible Crisis” (Templeton Press, 2016). He has testified before Congress on numerous occasions and has served as a consultant or adviser for various units in the US government. His appearances on radio and television range from NPR to CNN’s “The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer.” He has a Ph.D. in political economy and government, an M.P.A. from the Kennedy School of Government, and an A.B. from Harvard University. In addition, he holds a master of science from the London School of Economics and Political Science. In 2012, Dr. Eberstadt was awarded the prestigious Bradley Prize.

Sung-Yoon Lee is the Kim Koo-Korea Foundation Professor of Korean Studies and an assistant professor in The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. Dr. Lee is a former associate in research at Harvard University’s Korea Institute and a former research fellow of the inaugural National Asia Research Program, a joint initiative by the National Bureau of Asian Research and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. His essays on the international politics of the Korean Peninsula and Northeast Asia have been published multiple times in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, The Christian Science Monitor,, and The Hill, among others. His most recent publications are “Forgotten Borders: Japan’s Maritime Operations in the Korean War and Implications for North Korea” in “Eurasia’s Maritime Rise and Global Security: From the Indian Ocean to Pacific Asia and the Arctic” (Palgrave Macmillan, 2018) and “Getting Tough on North Korea: How to Hit Pyongyang Where It Hurts” in the May/June 2017 issue of Foreign Affairs. Dr. Lee has testified on North Korea policy at the US House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs Hearings and has advised senior officials and elected leaders.

David Maxwell serves on the board of directors for the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea. He is a 30-year veteran of the US Army, and he retired as a special forces colonel with his final assignment being serving on the military faculty teaching national security at the National War College. He spent the majority of his military service overseas with more than 20 years in Asia, primarily in Korea, Japan, and the Philippines. He is a graduate of Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, with a B.A. in political science and has masters’ degrees in military arts and science and national security studies from the US Army Command and General Staff College, the School of Advanced Military Studies, and the National War College of the National Defense University. He received his commission from the Officer Candidate School in 1981. He is also a fellow at the Institute of Corean-American Studies and on the board of directors of the International Council of Korean Studies, the Special Operations Research Association, and the Small Wars Journal. He is a life member of the Special Forces Association and the National War College Alumni Association. He is studying in the doctorate of liberal studies program at Georgetown University.

Tara O is a fellow at the Institute for Corean-American Studies and an adjunct fellow at the Pacific Forum. She is the author of “The Collapse of North Korea: Challenges, Planning and Geopolitics of Unification” (Palgrave Macmillan, 2016). She serves on the board of directors of the International Council on Korean Studies and was the editor-in-chief of its journal, International Journal of Korean Studies. A retired US Air Force officer, she worked on numerous assignments in Asia, Europe, and the US, including for the Pentagon and the US–Republic of Korea Combined Forces Command. Dr. O also taught at the US Air Force Academy. Her research areas include the Korean contingency and unification, US alliance, human rights in North Korea, North Korean defectors, and South Korean politics. Before joining the military, she worked in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors in Africa, Asia, and the US. Dr. O holds degrees from the University of Texas at Austin (Ph.D.), Princeton University (M.P.A.), and University of California, Davis (B.A.).

Joshua Stanton is an attorney in Washington, DC, with 22 years of military and civilian experience in criminal and civil litigation and administrative law. Between 1998 and 2002, he served as a US Army judge advocate in Seoul, Taegu, and Pyeongtaek. His blog, “One Free Korea,” was the first to identify and publish satellite imagery of three North Korean prison camps: Camp 16 (Hwasong), Camp 25 (Chongjin), and Camp 12 (Cheongo-ri). He has been cited or quoted in The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Reuters, The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph, and The New York Times, and his opinions have been published in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Foreign Policy, The Wall Street Journal, CNN International, and Foreign Affairs. Since April 2013, he has assisted congressional staff of both chambers and parties with drafting North Korea–related legislation, including the North Korea Sanctions and Policy Enhancement Act of 2016, Title III of the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, and other bills pending in the House and Senate. He has advised multiple federal agencies on implementation and enforcement strategies for this legislation. The views he expresses are his own and do not represent views of any member of committee of Congress or of any organization or government agency.

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