South Korea, Between Dynamism and Threats

South Korea, Between Dynamism and Threats

 Nicolas Tenzer

This special issue on South Korea comprehends interviews with prominent people from a wide scope of horizons. It is the result of a trip to Seoul specially organized for this purpose. After the last issue on Japan and two others dedicated to American think tanks, it continues our inquiry on countries too often only known from an external point of view. It aims at making heard smart people able to have an assessment, both engaged and distant, on their own countries. I do hope it will offer another image of a country frequently limited to easy stereotypes.

It would not have been possible to manage this issue without the warm support of my friends, Jérôme Pasquier, French ambassador to South Korea, and Étienne Rolland-Piègue, first counselor. I thank them heartedly for their wonderful welcome. They were efficient door-openers. I also want to express my very deep gratitude to Pr. Yoo Junghwan who has provided me with contacts with numerous people who accepted to contribute. He was fully involved in the making of this issue and was a remarkable host in Seoul, offering his time to guiding me in an unknown Seoul, which is an indispensable way to grasp some understanding of a country. I also want to thank my friend Benjamin Demière, a true expert on Korea, who brought kindly some of his friends to this issue. To all of them, I am fully obliged.

To divide such an issue into chapters may sound artificial, since many interviewees do not tackle a single issue but are dealing with many of them when analyzing their country. They often jump from geopolitics to economics, from sociology to culture. To understand a country requires confronting analyzes in different fields and only this broad understanding offers the ability to draw a global assessment of the country in terms of potential and risks. However, as for the other issues, a division could make the reading easier. We also offer two languages, English and French –one of the interviews was, in fact, a mix of those languages and Korean and was published in French.

Two words could summarize this issue: dynamism and risks. South Korea’s dynamism is obvious abroad and immediately impresses the traveler arriving in Seoul. He is evident as well in quite all of the interviews: Korea is looking, with confidence and willingness, to the future. It could be a country with internal doubts, but who determinately wants to move forwards, also on its most critical issue: the maybe unification of the two Koreas. Nonetheless, it has to deal with real threats. Beyond the North Korean danger, always there, it is a nation that meets with domestic risks: the society remains up to a point a dual society and fosters an incredible tension among the youth; its prosperous economy has also some remaining fragilities; its political ruling class does not always correspond to the country’s image; its history is not fully assumed. Our own piece, which opens this issue, is trying to deal with those contradictions which are at the true center of our own feeling.