South Korea vs. Christine Ahn

July 18, 2017 7:00 AM

I can think of very little—if anything—on which Christine Ahn and I agree. Our differences run the gamut from the causes of the famine (don’t blame the regime!), through her silences with respect to human rights abuses in the North, including with respect to women, to her proclivity to see much of what has gone wrong—but not right—on the Korean peninsula as a result of American intervention.

But principle is principle, and the recent news that Ahn was proscribed from visiting South Korea on the grounds that she might “hurt the national interests and public safety” of South Korea is far-fetched to say the least. I thought her efforts to organize the Women Cross the DMZ event in 2015 were criticized unfairly—despite some lapses—and as I wrote in a post on the march that generated a lively discussion, the sky hardly fell. What is the threat, precisely, that someone like Ahn poses?

Countries have the right to control who comes and goes. But when an advanced industrial democracy starts excluding foreigners on the basis of their political views—as South Korea did in 2015 with another American national Shin Eun-mi—it typically reflects some domestic lapses with respect to civil liberties as well. Perhaps the Moon administration can finally rid South Korea of its anachronistic national security laws and gratuitous judgments such as these. As Jong-sung You and I have argued with respect to the erosion of freedom of the press in South Korea, the best antidote for bad ideas is not official censure—which only burnishes the victim narrative—but public exposure.


Ian Brown

While I agree with your central thesis, that Ahn isn't a threat to the government or people of the ROK, I do not agree with the latter part of your post. Most democratic governments control entry on the grounds of security and public safety and most define this to exclude people with unsavoury backgrounds. Criminals for example. The UK in recent years has excluded US citizens who may disturb the peace (e.g. racists likely to provoke counter-demonstrations). This is a natural decision that any government must take and is a balance between the greater god (harmony) and freedom (...of speach). Whilst I don't hold you resposible for US policy, I would point out that the Supreme Court of the US has repeatedly ruled than non-citizens do not enjoy the same freedoms as US citizens. Most other democracies do not make this distinction so clearly. South Korea is obviously using it's legal powers to avoid a vocal critic but is entirely within its rights to do so. The question is would Ahn's visit disturb the peace or not? The lack of international norms makes it difficult to call-out the ROK at a time when countries from Russia, Hungary, Austria and the US are all enforcing bans on entry for one or other reason. I am not sure this is a South Korean trend (in erosion of freedom) rather a global trend in authoritarian(-lite) policy.

Yeongseob Lee

The more democratic or open a country is, the more vulnerable it is to national security threats by enemies. South Korea is an open and democratic state which is facing one of the world most violent regime that is provoking South Korea's national security. This is why South Korea cannot help being sensitive to a variety of North Korea's threats such as spies.

Shin eun mi deserved to suspected by the South Korean government as she held the talk concert, where she argued that North Korea is a country which guarantees human rights and welfare. Most of her talking was lying. And she bore her baby at the 'VIP' hospital in Pyeong, which only high-class North Koreans can use. 

Freedom can be respected only if it does not hurt others or society.

Stephan Haggard

Ahn's ban was--rightly--lifted: I am completely unmoved by claims that Shin was "lying." If someone where to say that you were lying, would that be the foundation for cutting off your rights to free speech? National security justifications are also dubious: democracies are stronger precisely because they are free. 


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Stephan Haggard Senior Research Staff