Once only a staple of American politics and of a few Western countries, think tanks have gained popularity worldwide for their role as policy advisors. South Korea is no exception and the past years have seen the establishment of a number of institutions in Seoul, such as the Asan Institute and the East Asia Institute. Yet while think tanks provide extensive research and advice to policy makers, critics have started to call into question their independence, their integrity and their usefulness.
One of these critics is Professor Emanuel Pastreich who argued in a recent article that think tanks suffer from a number of shortcomings. At the same time, he asserted that Korea – and specifically Seoul – has the potential to become a hub for think tanks in East Asia. We sat down with him to discuss the ideological biases of think tanks, the inaccessibility of their debates to a wider audience, and the need to include the youth in the policy process.
Professor Pastreich is Associate Professor at Kyung Hee University in Seoul. He received a B.A. in Chinese from Yale University, a M.A. in Comparative Literature from the University of Tokyo, and a Ph. D. in East Asian Studies from Harvard University. He taught previously at the University of Illinois and George Washington University. In 2007 he established the Seoul-based think tank The Asia Institute, has advised regional government in Korea and published a number of studies on technology, the environment and international relations in multiple languages.
Increasingly, the think tank world has moved […] towards self-promotion, much less engagement with people who actually know what they’re talking about — and East Asia may be the worst on the American side. Increasingly, people who couldn’t fight their way out of a plastic bag in an Asian language pontificate about what East Asia’s future is, they can’t read the languages, they never spent a lot of time [in the region] and in many cases what they say is patently wrong — North Korea being the most obvious case of that. As we like to say: getting North Korea wrong is the second oldest profession.
The interview was conducted on June 17th in Seoul.