My guest today is Ramon Pacheco Pardo (@rpachecopardo), Ramon is a Professor of International Relations at King’s College London, and Korea Chair at the Brussels School of Governance. He is also a non-resident adjunct fellow with the Center for Strategic Studies Korea Chair, and a non-resident fellow at the Sejong Institute. He is also the author of Shrimp to Whale: South Korea from the Forgotten War to K-Pop, which is today’s focus.
In this conversation, we cover the incredible rise of South Korea, where the future lies for them, and his awesome and aptly named book.
I hope you enjoy my conversation with Ramon Pacheco Pardo.
[00:00:31] – [First question] – Ramon’s history with South Korea
[00:05:29] – Who came up with the title for the book?
[00:07:17] – Ramon’s favourite period of South Korean History
[00:08:15] – South Korea’s insane growth put into perspective
[00:10:52] – What has South Korea done differently that has allowed it to succeed?
[00:14:22] – Chaebols and their role
[00:16:14] – Dark side of Korea’s growth
[00:18:43] – South Korea’s future?
[00:22:09] – South Korean Identity and what it means going forward
[00:24:29] – What was the process for writing the book?
[00:29:18] – Unexpected challenges of writing the book?
[00:32:12] – Anything we haven’t talked about that’s consequential to South Korea’s future?
[00:33:59] – Underrated skill or experience?
[00:35:20] – Influential books?
[00:36:57] – Future plans?
[00:38:10] – Wrapping up
Connect with Ramon:
- Follow Ramon on Twitter
- Connect with Ramon on LinkedIn
- Buy Ramon’s book – Shrimp to Whale: South Korea from the Forgotten War to K-Pop
Listen to this episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Castbox, Google Podcasts, or on your favourite podcast platform.
Kalani Scarrott (00:31): All right. How are we doing? My guest today is Ramon Pacheco Pardo. Ramon is a professor of international relations at King’s College, London and Korea chair at the Brussels School of Governance. He’s also a non-resident adjunct fellow with the Center for Strategic Studies Korea Chair and a non-resident fellow at the Sejong Institute. He is also the author of Shrimp to Whale: South Korea from the Forgotten War to K-Pop, which is today’s focus. So in this conversation, we cover the incredible rise of South Korea, where the future lies for them and his awesome and aptly named book. So I hope you have as much fun as me, and please enjoy my conversation with Ramon Pacheco Pardo. Cool. Cool, cool. So let’s get stuck in Ramon, thank you so much for coming on. And I know you first came to South Korea as a student all the way back in 2003, but do you just wanna elaborate a bit more on your background and history with South Korea?
Ramon Pacheco Pardo (01:24): Sure. I originally come from Spain, and it’s fair to say that, that the, in Spain back then there wasn’t much interest or knowledge on Korea, or to be honest Asia in general. but I was intrigued by the similarities between the history of Spain and then the history of South Korea. Both of us, we used to be poor countries under dictatorships. and then we became developed and after becoming developed, there was a transition to democracy. So that’s why I was interested in South Korea, of course, there was a world cup at the same time. But I think that would really inform my decision to focus on the country and trying to know more about it. So, so when I was a student my university back in Spain had an exchange agreement with Korean University, with Hankuk University of Foreign Studies. I applied and I got the position. So I was able to spend a full year in Korea as a student. and that’s when my interest in the country really picked up after being able to spend there all that time.
Kalani Scarrott (02:31): And then just to maybe wrap up with yourself. So from first studying in Korea to now, do you just wanna give a quick background sketch of yourself and how you’ve transitioned over the years?
Ramon Pacheco Pardo (02:39): So, after studying in Korea I went back to Spain. I was working for a while, and I went to do, to do a masters in Australia, actually at UNSW because they had a very good program focusing on East Asia. International relations of East Asia. And I was able to do my master’s thesis on inter-Korean relations. And that’s when I decided maybe something I want to do for the future. I want to continue to research about Korea and eventually be able to discuss Korea publicly, right? After having acquired more knowledge about it. So I worked for a while, and after working for a while, I went into my PhD program, which was on, in the end, it was on North Korea-US Relations.
(03:22): But I was always obviously studying South Korean foreign policy, South Korean University politics. I had the chance to live in Seoul for a second time, this time at Korea [University]. I was studying at Korea [University], staying at Korea University during my PhD. And I was lucky enough that I got my job at King’s straight after I finished my PhD, actually before I finish my PhD. So I could continue to research and write about Korea. Then I got the Korea Chair in Brussels later on. So, I have the two jobs, and obviously this allow me to dig deeper into policy debates in Korea as well. That’s the type of position that I have in Brussels. And throughout this whole time, I’ve been trying go to South Korea often.
(04:13): So before the pandemic I was able to go every, every second month. And I would also spend the summers in Korea, so long stays. And I can see that once since the pandemic is over for me and travel is back, this is happening again, I’m going to Korea quite often. Again, I’m able to engage in debates, conversations in Korea itself, in Europe, in the US, in other parts of the world, about Korean foreign policy, Korean domestic politics. And throughout this whole period of time, I always thought, well I would be interested in writing a book for the general public, not an academic book about South Korea. partly because when I first went to Korea myself, or was it, this was almost 20 years ago there was nothing of the likes.
(04:59): So, so when I was going, my friends I member, they, they gifted me a couple of books on Korea, but one of them was a normal travel guide, the Lonely planet one, and then one was actually in North Korea. And this was because there wasn’t much in South Korea that was not academic. And later on when I was traveling myself, often there I always felt well, we don’t have a book that maybe tells the history of South Korea, only, not of Korea, but South Korea only focusing the transformation of the country as I said, for a general audience. And, and that’s what led me to write the book.
Kalani Scarrott (05:29): I will touch on the book. Just curious who came up with the title of the book? Cause I love it.
Ramon Pacheco Pardo (05:34): Yeah, thank you. well, it was my title actually. So it was one of those cases that I came up with a title first, and then I approach the publisher and the publisher relented because the publishers not been experts on Korea, South Korea. They said, Well within these captures what we think <laugh> Korea, the way we think Korea has evolved, right? So they really liked it. it’s not that they knew the meaning of shrimp among whales, the Korean saying, but they did like the analogy of a country, you know, moving from being a small and not very recognized to being much better known. Right? And, and, and I think the forgotten war, is how many called the Korean War, not only in the US but also in Europe, and K-Pop, everybody knows, knows about it. So it was a case that I came up with the title myself, the publishers liked it, and then they said, Well, now you have to, to write the book, now you have to write 200 pages that reflected the title.
Kalani Scarrott (06:33): Yeah. It covers all bases. And just quickly, for listeners who don’t know, could you explain the shrimp among whales quote?
Ramon Pacheco Pardo (06:39): Yes, absolutely. Right. So it’s this, this saying that, that there’s in Korea, that Korea, traditionally when it was a unified country, it was a shrimp, small countries surrounded by the big whale. Back then, of course, it was China and Japan, so they would be China and the US. And, and the same goes that when the whales fight the shrimp has its back broken, right? And this case, the shrimp would be Korea, basically, meaning that it wouldn’t be able to determine its own fate, that it would be as I said China and Japan in the past, but today, China and the US that would be able to determine its own, its own fate.
Kalani Scarrott (07:17): Yeah. And I’ll ask this at the beginning just in case it might lead us down some rabbit holes, but your favorite period or even moment in South Korean history?
Ramon Pacheco Pardo (07:24): Yeah, that’s a great question. I mean, I really like a study in the 1980s, ’90s, the transition to democracy period because it was a people’s led process. And I find that very interesting how you saw different groups coming together. you have the student and workers movement that have been pressing for democracy for decades, but that’s the start of a strong feminist movement in Korea that also joins this fight for democracy among other things. but also normal white collar workers, office workers that traditionally have been less politicized in Korea. And obviously this group was smaller when Korea was poor, that also you in the fight for democracy. So you had all these different groups coming together. So I think that’s the one I enjoyed the most studying and researching and writing about.
Kalani Scarrott (08:15): Yeah. And in the book, you made a great illustration on the growth after the war, cause I think off the top of my head, the IMF even called South Korea basket case. So the growth from after the war. And you gave this great illustration just from someone being born in 1920 through to them turning 50. So could you highlight the changes they saw and what that looked like?
Ramon Pacheco Pardo (08:34): Yeah, it is interesting you, you pick up on the, on that, because quite a few readers have mentioned that, right? Including many Koreans who went through that process and said, Oh, that was me, right back in the day. So yes, that section I mean, I go back to someone who, who may have been born when Korea was under Japanese colonial rule who may have been sent to a Japanese mine as a slave worker, basically. Or who was a woman who may have been a sex slave or comfort women, right? Sent to one of the stations that Japan had during the Second World War. So a real suffering. We’re talking here, being a slave, basically of another country, right? And then how this person, during the Korean War, or after the Korean War, of course, during the Korean War, they would have suffer family losses after the Korean War having really poor.
(09:24): And that’s exactly when the World Bank was saying, Look, Korea is not, South Korea is not going to grow. It has no future, basically. And that person would have had to work extremely hard, obviously for his or her own sake to begin with, but also for the good of the country, for the country to, we can develop. And by the 1970s this person would live in a flat, probably in some cases, for the first time ever, they would be able to live in a flat they would have a TV, a fridge, things that in other countries were taken for granted. Of course you know, Europe, Australia, Canada, the US, but certainly not in Korea at the time. they would be able to scrap some holidays from time to time, probably to Jeju island of course in the south of South Korea.
(10:10): And they would have a completely different life from the moment when they were born. I draw this picture so to speak, in the book because if we compare with other countries that were already developed, where the development process took hundreds of years, really, we’re not even talking about decades. this wasn’t necessarily the case in other countries when the case of Korea, this was this compressed development in a period of 30, 40 years going for being colonized and extreme poverty to having a fairly middle class life, fairly stable job. And as I said, being able to go on holiday, something that certainly hadn’t been taken for granted by Koreans in, in history. Really.
Kalani Scarrott (10:52): Yeah. And it’s the insane growth and how quickly it’s all happened. That’s maybe what’s fascinating to me, cause I’ll pull this from your book “in 1953, South Korea was poorer than Subha Sub-Saharan Africa than the poorest region in the world.” And again, little to no natural resources. So some thought there might be better futures on the African continent, but what has South Korea done differently or maybe done better than other countries that have allowed it to succeed then? Yeah,
Ramon Pacheco Pardo (11:15): It’s interesting cause the comparison with Sub-Saharan Africa wasn’t mine, actually. It came from official documents that I read from different institutions, right? In a sense they were trying to say that back then there were different parts of the world that were really poor, right? And, and, and one of them was Korea the Korean peninsula in South Korea. And I think South Korea was able to do is actually three things. One of them, he was able to focus on the basics. So something that even before the 1960s, even after the Korean War, there was this focus on, on having universal education both girls and boys, actually, not only boys. That’s happening in some other countries Vaccination, for example. So, kids basically wouldn’t pass away, right? From, from tuberculosis or other diseases.
(12:08): And also focusing on the development of infrastructure. So trying to build housing, trying to build roads, railroads as well. So trying to build the basic infrastructure that any country would need if they want you to export. And that would be the second key point in the case of Korea, that other countries, if you look for example, at Latin America, they were focusing on this import substitution policy whereby they just wanted to get rid of foreign goods right, and produce domestic goods. But the case of credits was supplemented by exporting, right? By making goods that would be exported to the rest of the world. Of course, South Korea was not the first country to think about this. Mexicans have done it in the past, but South Korea really emphasizes in 1950s. So from the 1960s onwards and especially related to these, the emphasis on moving up the value added chain, because other developing countries, I wouldn’t say they were happy to only focus on textiles, shoes, et cetera, et cetera, but maybe had the long term thinking just say, Okay, how do we move to the next stage?
(13:12): Right? things like iron, for example, chemicals sorry, steel, chemicals later on shipping, semiconductors, et cetera, et cetera. So there was this focus on export about the long term component. And I think the third aspect is the strong network that the government had with the Chaebols that dominated the current economy, the big conglomerates these had downsides, of course there was corruption and, and some felt that the government was telling them basically what to do, at least until the 1980s. but they had upsides as well, which was you had these very big companies that were able to receive the capital from the state, but then they were able to become internationally competitive. And if they had been a small medium size enterprises, it might be me, have been very difficult to scale up sufficiently to be able to, to export so that, that matter as well in the case of Korea and to whether with the two of them, of course, the, the, the first aspect that I mentioned, you had this long-term planning to have a healthy population, educated population, and then they were, they were the workforce for this Chaebol that we’re working together with the government.
Kalani Scarrott (14:22): Yeah, there’s a million different threads I could pull on there, but I’ll start with the Chaebols. So could you explain, just for someone who’s never heard of the term, what they are, and then maybe why were they able to flourish and what’s their function, I guess, in the greater economy of South Korea?
Ramon Pacheco Pardo (14:35): Yeah, absolutely. There are these big conglomerates that span many different sectors. So they can span 30, 40, 50, 60 different sectors. Now, this gives them a couple of advantages. one of them is a variable to attract more capital because of their size, right? most of them are too big to fail, even though the, in Asian financial crisis, maybe this wasn’t the case if we look at some of them, but for many, we thought they were too big to fail. So obviously they receive a state support as, as well. And, and second characteristic, because they were in so many different sectors. If you look at the Chaebols such as Samsung, we know them because of the semiconductors and mobile phones. So if you go to Korea, for example, they also doing insurance. They’re involved in the housing sector, so involved in all types of sectors.
(15:26): And, and of course the advantage of this is that if one of the sectors is not working quite well, but some others are working better, right? this means that the Chaebol can survive, right? It’s not focused on a single sector. They’re very diversified. and if one of them is not working well, they can cut their losses and focus on other ones, right? And, example of Samsung that they just mentioned, for example, for a while, Samsung tried to get into the car making sector. This actually didn’t work right? But, but it’s very strong in many other sectors. So the, the company didn’t disappear, it was able to continue, right? So this allows for a long term planning that it wouldn’t be able, if you only focus on one sector or, or you only had one company essentially in two or three sectors only.
Kalani Scarrott (16:14): And you touched on some of the dark sides, which was corruption and the linkage of Chaebols and the government. So could you maybe expand upon just some of the downsides or the costs of Korea’s incredible growth, Like what have been some of the ill intended side effects, maybe, for lack of a better word?
Ramon Pacheco Pardo (16:28): Yeah, I mean obviously there is one of the reasons why the worker movement in 1960’s, 70’s and 80’s led to the passage to democracy because they felt they were not represented by the Rhee [Government]. So that was a downside, right? In a sense, they were cheap labor, really cheap labor, right? earning very little. And they felt they were not getting their fair share of the spoils of economic growth. It is true that if you look at that period of time in Korean history, there wasn’t much inequality. But it’s also fair to say that one of the reason why there wasn’t inequality, cause salaries were not very high, were low actually, right? So, that was the downside that you know, maybe with high different economic growth model, but maybe workers would have getting a better share.
(17:18): And it is good, actually is very interesting. If you look at Korean salaries today, the big growth came after transition to democracy, late 1980s, early 1990s. There was this very interesting graph from the OECD that looks at salary growth from 2000 until 2020, right? And, Koreas after Norway, the country with the highest salary growth, real wage growth, right? and this didn’t happen during the developmental stage, right? In those years. And secondly was corruption. There was very big corruption. It was one of the reasons behind the Asian financial crisis of, 1997-98, the strong links between state and, the Chaebols and Korean people knew this of course this was allowed during the period, economic growth, but at some point that that wasn’t the case anymore, right? people wanted change. And, and this true, it’s interesting that if you look at, for example, institutions, transparency, international is very interesting that today Korea is not very corrupt by international standards, right? It’s more or less at the same level as, as you would say, in western European countries, right? But this wasn’t the case during the developmental years. So, so clearly was an issue back then that again, it has only been addressed afterwards, right? In this case, after I shock to the system as the Asian financial crisis.
Kalani Scarrott (18:43): And yeah, for South Korea overall going forward, how bullish and excited or positive are you about their future? Because you mentioned they’ve moved up the value-added chain. So what is now what in the past might have been steel, shipbuilding now is semiconductors, internet of things, because Korea’s done very well, over 50 million population, economy’s fourth largest in Asia, and 10th in the world by GDP. So yeah, where do they go from here?
Ramon Pacheco Pardo (19:05): Yes. I mean, that’s really good question. Cause there is a big discussion in, in Korea. I mean, it’s not new, but you can trace it back at least to the 1980s about to what extent Korea can continue to thrive, especially in consideration like this next to China, right? And, China is also moving up the value added chain. This has been a very big fear in Korea. As I said, it’s not new, It has been there for 40 years, but Korea has been able to continue to innovate to an extent that hasn’t been absorbed, so to speak by China. there was also fear in the past that he wouldn’t be able to compete with Japan. So again, that it would be a squeeze between high tech, Japan, low wage China. But now if we look at Korea, it competes at the global level, not only with Japan, in, in some sector, in some sectors, of course Japan and other countries, US, Europe, other countries are more technological advanced.
(19:53): But in some others, if you look at semiconductors, well Korea’s have there, along with Taiwan, for example. if you look at the green shipping which is I think the next big growth engine for Korea it leads at the global level, not in shipping first of all, but in the more environmentally friendly ships that increasingly we have to use for transportation, right? At the global level. if you look at robotics Korea’s getting up there, together with Japan, which is probably the most advanced country in this, in this sector, right? And now you see for example, after the pandemic, the biotech sector, right? So, so Korea, for the first time ever really developing an indigenous vaccine, it wasn’t able to export it. But who knows in the future it might be something that is able to do, to do as well.
(20:37): So I think innovation really is, is where Korea can thrive. I think it’s well known there is a population decline. Of course, some people see this as a challenge. but then I think there is a debate there because it can be a challenge if there are less workers, but we focus on the economy. Something interesting that you see in Koreas that focus on these less labor intensive sectors, cause it doesn’t have enough workers, right? And more focused on these high tech, capital intensive sectors. Plus, for example something very interesting, whenever I visit the increasing presence of robots actually before it was in factories only, but now you go to the airport or you go to a restaurant and you see robots because they simply don’t have enough workers, right? So robots, for example, they will take your dishes, you know, once they’re dirty instead of a waiter doing this because they don’t have enough, right?
(21:25): So after each of the robot, then they have to take it somewhere so it can be picked up, right? So I think that’s where I see the future of Korea going. The innovation, right? And innovation also on how to drive economic growth within the workforce. Because I, I don’t think even if the birth rate goes up is, is not going to reach the replacement rate doesn’t happen any developed country actually. And that’s not going to happen in Korea. And I don’t see Korea opening up too much migration that’s not really on the cards in my view. We may be surprised, but I don’t think it’s on the cards. So, so we’re going to see this innovation in terms of how to drive growth in an environment, which you actually have less workers as well.
Kalani Scarrott (22:09): Perfect. I’m glad you mentioned immigration there cause you’ve knocked out my next question. So my last question on the future of Korea before I get more into your book is, are South Koreans slowly giving up an idea of a unified Korea? Because yeah, like you said, from the person from 1920, 50 years later, their idea of unified Korea would be a lot stronger than someone, like a much younger person might identify as South Korean first. So could you talk a little bit about that and your thoughts there?
Ramon Pacheco Pardo (22:32): Yes I think it’s interesting, I think in the abstract, right, many Koreans think it’s unlikely that unification will happen anytime soon. And younger Koreans feel that this is not the way to go. that is true, but that’s in the abstract. I think when push comes to shove, if it looks likely that this may happen, I think perceptions will be different. I mean, you saw this in, in 2000, we had the first inter-Korean summit and people thought that the unification was coming soon, right? and people rally, they had the cause. But even in 2018-19 when we saw the summits between Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong Un and we also saw Trump, of course meeting with Kim and I happened to be in Korea for the first of those summits. again, many people rallied behind this saying, Well, you know, this is something that they happen, you know, reconciliation and eventually unification.
(23:30): So I find that very interesting actually, because in the abstract, especially younger people feel well is something that maybe we don’t want to do. But when it comes to the possibility of this actually happening, no, you actually see that this is something, that would be supported by the people of South Korea, right? of course, I’m not saying that North Korea is going to collapse in anytime soon, but some Korean said, Well, we thought this wouldn’t happen with the Soviet Union, or we thought the Arab spring wouldn’t happen, and then it happened. So what happens if there’s a North Korean collapse, then I’m pretty sure most South Koreans would rally behind a unified idea of a unified Korea, or even if it’s, if there’s a more long term process in which is reconciliation and the positive of unification, I think most South Koreans would support it. but yes, as, as I said, in depth, I think there is still the, there is this division between younger South Korean who feel this is not the way to go and other South Korean who feel we should still strive for it.
Kalani Scarrott (24:29): So with your book, you touched a little bit, but could you just expand on like what made you take that leap into the book? So you mentioned you came up with the title first, and then what did the process look like after that?
Ramon Pacheco Pardo (24:37): I was writing during the pandemic, actually, right? Because the contract was accepted shortly before the pandemic. So in a sense I’m not saying it was a blessing, but it is true that, cause I was at home all day of course with my family, but I was at home all day. I ended up writing at nights, right? There was no commute, there was no trouble, right? So most of the process I tried to write during the day, but also was writing at night. But this allow me actually to write it fairly quickly in the sense that I had all ideas in my mind, but because I couldn’t go into university, you couldn’t meet anyone for lunch or dinner, for example, we in lockdown, right? Or as I said, you couldn’t travel. So that helped me to focus my mind, right?
(25:21): To say, okay, well I have, I’m going to be at home for a bit of time, let’s write the book, right? And, that helped in the sense that I could write every day, right? As opposed to having to write two days, then you go away for one week and then you come back, right? Or of course you’re meeting your friends. And then writing. So it came out very quickly in that sense. And I think from the beginning I knew what I wanted to say and I had been doing the research for many years, right? So I had enough data to write the book. and I remember that I had only written academic stuff for the most part. Op-eds of course, as well, but that’s very different stuff, Thousand words max, right?
(26:05): So I kind of knew how the style should be different by having read other books that were also for the general public, right? And how to eliminate all academic jargon and, focus on what someone who doesn’t know anything about Korea would like to learn, but in a way that was accessible. And I think that sense maybe it, it did help the fact that I’m not a native speaker, right? So, in a sense I had to say, well, someone like me who is not a native speaker, right? There are sometimes expressions that are too complex, right? So, I think that helped in that sense. So trying to make it as accessible as possible and writing every, every day. I mean, I went chronologically so I didn’t have to go back and forth cause I said I had a clear idea of what I wanted, what I wanted to say. I had done all the research beforehand, so, I knew where to find the exact information, the exact quotes that I needed for the different sections.
Kalani Scarrott (26:58): Yeah. And I’m not just saying this because I have you on the podcast, but I genuinely enjoyed the book. It was such an easy, like you said, it flowed through. And for me, like, I’m definitely not a Korea expert by any means of the imagination. So for me, I felt a lot smarter by the time I finished due to the way you presented it.
Ramon Pacheco Pardo (27:12): Yeah. Yeah. Thank you. That was idea.
Kalani Scarrott (27:14): Just curious. So do you get the green light from the publisher? I don’t know, at the very start and what does it look like, their terms, or even just like, what did they want the book to look like versus what did you want the book to look like? I’m just curious about that whole scenario cause I don’t know how it works.
Ramon Pacheco Pardo (27:28): Yeah, that, that, that’s a good question. Yes. They were interested from the beginning, I have to say. So when they were interested and I mean, I gave them the concept and they were able to check closely my other writings of course. So they could see my style even though as I said, this was very different cause it was an academic, but, you know, they could see how I structure paragraphs, sentences, sections, et cetera, which is important, important for them. And no, and I have to say, they gave me total freedom, I would say. And say, Well, you already the expert, you are the one who knows about this topic. Of course, once I finished, they went over it and there was a copyeditor and they were saying, Well, these things, this paragraph, these sentences are a bit more difficult to understand.
(28:16): What do you exactly mean here? but I have to say there wasn’t, there weren’t many changes actually. as I said, to be honest, once I gave them the parameters of what I wanted to write it was very easy to work with the publisher actually, I have to say. So that was very good process. And, and as I said, you know, the edits that they gave me where were minimal saying, Well, this, we don’t, we don’t understand. We feel that readers won’t understand this or this sentence, this expression, What do you actually mean by this? Or here, I think you, you’ve made a mistake because, you know, it doesn’t make, make sense to what you say. But there weren’t that many others. I remember the copy it mentioning that, right? That the copy felt that they were being paid for that job, of course, but they were not doing that much. They said, No, don’t worry. I mean, I’m not going to complain. I’m not having to make many, many changes. Right? but I, I don’t remember that as well, So not very, very easy process. So, so I was very, very lucky actually with, with my editors, I have to say.
Kalani Scarrott (29:18): So were there any unexpected challenges or hiccups in writing the book? You mentioned Covid but that was almost like a blessing in disguise, being able to write every day. But were there any other challenges maybe not being able to travel to Korea and talk to sources firsthand? What was the hardest bit about writing the book?
Ramon Pacheco Pardo (29:31): Yeah, that’s a very good question. I prefer to talk to people in person. So, so I mean, I have talk, I need to meet people over the years before the pandemic, but during that pandemic it’s had to be an online using in software sometimes by phone, right? yeah. And it’s not the same. you know, I understand why people wouldn’t want to talk for two hours on the phone or online or even one hour, right? And it’s something that, you know, when you meet in person, you know, people may willing choose that so you can get more out of, of it. I wouldn’t call it a challenge, but yeah, obviously it wasn’t as easy as it would have been if I were able to just spend a few weeks in Korea just talking to people. I wouldn’t call it a challenge of, because some many things change in Korea, right?
(30:16): So when I was writing the chapter about contemporary South Korea, right? the book ends up with the election this year. but you know, it was their rise at the global level, for example of Blackpink. So it’s something always I need to incorporate. Not a challenge, but it was something else I need to discuss. Of course, then along came Squid Game, Parasite, right? And focusing more on the culture. But that’s what happened, right? So at some point the challenge was, well, where do I stop? Right? Because there was always a new drama, a new movie then also when South Korea was invited to attend the G7 right? So it’s like, okay, this is something I really need to discuss in the book, right? So the challenge maybe was where, where do I actually stop?
(30:56): In a sense it was the election. So, okay, let’s stop with the election, because then of course after the election you could have carried on, right? more things happening, right? Like Extraordinary Attorney Woo, right? The new drama becoming successful, but you cannot just keep having everything, right? and, and that was a bit of a challenge. and the final one, which is a challenge, of course, you have a word limit. and I didn’t, I really didn’t want to go beyond, beyond the word limit. So sometimes you have to make choices and you say, Well this interesting, right? But I don’t have the space to discuss it. Let’s say, for example in Korean manga, right? which is something, it has been sector that has been growing right? Especially the stories that people read on their, on their, on their mobile phones, for example.
Kalani Scarrott (31:41): Oh, so like webtoons?
Ramon Pacheco Pardo (31:42): Webtoons. Yes. yeah, I’ve forgotten the, the actual name webtoons actually, because I simply didn’t have the space, right? And, and, and yes, I have, I word limit that I had to, to respect. so I mean, this came to my mind because a couple of readers got in touch and said, Oh, this for the next edition you should discuss and said, You’re right, right, <laugh>. So as I had to focus on, on, on other things or some historical figures, you were like, Well, I would like to have 2-3 paragraphs to talk about this person, but I really don’t have the space. It will have to be one paragraph.
Kalani Scarrott (32:12): Ah, okay. Wow. The more you know. So before I get into my closing round of questions that I ask every guest, is there anything we haven’t talked about that’s consequential about the future of South Korea, in your opinion?
Ramon Pacheco Pardo (32:22): Well, I mean, I, I should have mentioned that when you asked me about it, but one thing I really discuss in the book in detail is the changing role of women in, in society, right? Not only in the, in the workforce. And that was very interesting for, for me to write because I, I talk to, to journalists, academics entrepreneurs business, women rights, so, so many different sectors. And it was very interesting because many women who I talk to is like, they said, Well, I think this is something you should focus on in the book. But they also said, But don’t treat this in an overly negative way. They feel that this is being treated right, sometimes by, by, by foreigners, right? Including academics such as myself in a very negative way and say, Well, why don’t you also mention the successes we have had over time?
(33:06): And I find that very interesting because that maybe changed the way in which I wrote about this evolution of the role of women in society and, and in the workforce, right? So I do mention, for example female entrepreneurs, right? Cause I found out by interesting, in spite of my research, and this came actually from talking to many of them, I said, Well why don’t you tell this story? You know, we feel very proud about, you know, launching our own companies and, and, and, and being able to manage our own workforce. And, and we feel that sometimes you know, as I, foreign academics, foreign journalists really don’t deal with this, right? And they just focus on the, on the negatives, which of course is still exists, right? And I find that very interesting that, that that process of how the role of women in society has, has changed and how many women feel that this is something that should be discussed more, right? not only the negatives, but this is also the, the positives, which they, they really feel very proud about.
Kalani Scarrott (33:59): Yeah. Perfect. And to roll into my final round of questions, what do you think is an undervalued life experience or skill even that university age students don’t give away to? So like, yeah, what do you think they should have going forward? What do you think is pivotal?
Ramon Pacheco Pardo (34:12): Yeah, I mean, that’s, that’s a good question because one of the things I recall back in the day I mean, my first degree was, was in Spain, so maybe different from other countries, of course, is the, the importance of my interpersonal skills, right? Because you get all the knowledge that you need maybe to a job, but then, you know, once you join the, the, the workforce, right? You realize personal skills do matter in some cases more, right? Because you need, for example, things like empathy, right? That they don’t teach you at university, right? Then you, well, you need to be able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, right? Things like this. I do recall that when I started to, to work and, well, this is something I wish I had no more of. And you can get this of course through, through internships, work experience, right? I mean, I mean, for a while, for example, in my case, I work as a, a sales assistant, right? That helps so much, those type of things, right? But, you know, sometimes it would be good if you are being, this has been discussed more open in a university, right? Not only academic knowledge per se, but all these soft skills that you’re going to need later on, which I think are crucial. Yeah.
Kalani Scarrott (35:20): And again, general, or even, you can apply this to Korea if you want, but have there been either any books or people maybe that have been influential in shaping you and your worldview?
Ramon Pacheco Pardo (35:30): Yes. I mean I really like the book by Gabriel García Márquez, 100 years of Solitude, right? I mean, I remember that’s a book that really marked me when I was really back, back when I was teenager year. Yeah. And some people say the best ever book, best book ever written in Spanish. And I dunno if it’s the case or not, but it’s really, really good, right? and that helped me. Cause I’m not comparing my writing to him, of course, by any stretch of the imagination but I really like the way he was telling stories, right? And, and, and, and later on when it comes to my writing, as I say, I comparing myself to him, but to replicate the way he has of, of writing, I think the way he has of bringing different threads together and bring, putting them together, right?
(36:14): I really like that. So that really, I remember that really, really marked me, and I completely different, but when I was little, I really liked basketball. And my favorite player was Magic Johnson back in the day. And, and one way I guess he, he, he influenced me is that the way he actually put the team first, right? Someone as talented as him. And, and then I tried to apply that later on, you know my roles, for example, as Korea chair, right? Tried to, to put the team first and not, not myself. I’m successful or not, I don’t know. But I remember that really marked me saying, Well, you know, this guy could be doing everything by himself, but, but no, he’s thinking about everyone of us. Right? So, so I find that very, very interesting back in the day,
Kalani Scarrott (36:57): So having now finished the book. What are the plans going forward? yeah, what are you most curious about now? Or Yeah, where are you planning to go?
Ramon Pacheco Pardo (37:03): I guess I have a couple of books coming out. One of them is, is very academic on South Korea Strategy and foreign Policy. And, that one is very academic. It’s is not so much for the general public. even though from what I see, you know, it could be policy makers, journalists interested, but it’s not really for, for the not reader. Another one together with big professor at Georgetown University and also Korea at CSIS we’re writing in a book for the public in this case about Korea’s modern history, so late 19th century. And until today of course Victor is a good friend. He has written a really excellent book about North Korean history, right? I have my book about South Korean history now. So in a sense, this kind of compliments what each of us has been, has been doing, and both of these books are coming out next year. So that’s what I’m focusing on right now, other than other responsibilities. But that’s what I’m, I’m doing in terms of research and I’m
Kalani Scarrott (38:05): Writing. Perfect. I’ll have to get you back on the podcast again next year then.
Ramon Pacheco Pardo (38:08): Tell Victor, I’m sure he’ll be delighted too,
Kalani Scarrott (38:10): So yeah, just lastly, where can people find you? Obviously plug the book and where to find that, but yeah, anything else you wanna cover?
Ramon Pacheco Pardo (38:17): I mean as you mentioned, we discuss in the beginning, right? I’m working in London and Brussels right working at Kings College and University of Brussels. And other than that, I’m in Korea really most of the time, right? As often as possible. and the book, from what I understand I mean it is available in bookstore for sure. I’ve seen it in London, in Brussels, in the US as well actually in Korea, places such as, such as Kyoto. But many readers have told me that in the countries not for sale, So just buy it online, right? I know in many European countries, I said the US, Korea is definitely available, but I do know that many people are telling me, Look, I just bought it online because that was the easiest thing for me to do. And I’m not going to name any platforms, but that different platforms, of course, and that’s where you can get it.
Kalani Scarrott (39:09): Yeah. okay. I won’t name the bookstore then, but I remember I first saw it in a pretty massive bookstore in Malaysia, and it was front and center, mate, you got good placements, so, yeah
Ramon Pacheco Pardo (39:17): Yeah. Oh, interesting. Cause you know, I, I heard from friends in not in Malaysia, in, Indonesia. So, and from what I understand, because Kpop is so big in the region, right? Yeah, yeah. So, you know, at Malaysia, so in something new I learned as well from this podcast, right? And I mean, but as I said, I, I do know that some, I say Indonesia, the same countries from what you say they’re really interested in the topic, actually. Absolutely. Yeah, absolutely.
Kalani Scarrott (39:42): So, yeah. Cool. Ramon, thank you so much for coming on today. I really appreciate it. I had a blast and yet cannot recommend your book us to anyone.
Ramon Pacheco Pardo (39:49): Thanks to you