Samsung headquarters in Seoul. CREDIT: <a href="">Oskar Alexanderson</a> <a href="">(CC)</a>
Samsung headquarters in Seoul. CREDIT: Oskar Alexanderson (CC)

Korea & the "Republic of Samsung" with Geoffrey Cain

Sep 20, 2018

Korea expert Geoffrey Cain talks about his forthcoming book, "The Republic of Samsung," which reveals how the Samsung dynasty (father and son) are beyond the law and are treated as cult figures by their employees--rather like the leaders of North Korea. He also discusses the prospects for peace on the Korean peninsula--is Trump helping or hurting?--and the strange and sensational story behind the impeachment of President Park Geun-hye.

Podcast music: Blindhead and Mick Lexington.

DEVIN STEWART: Hi, I'm Devin Stewart here at Carnegie Council in New York City, and today I'm speaking with Geoffrey Cain. Geoff is a writer and journalist based in Seoul and Washington, DC.

Geoff, great to see you again.

GEOFFREY CAIN: Good to see you, Devin.

DEVIN STEWART: Geoff focuses on the Korean peninsula, Korean politics, corruption in Korea, and also the prospect of peace on the Korean peninsula. You've been to North Korea a few times.


DEVIN STEWART: So you're not an armchair expert, you're a real expert. You know what's going on to some degree, as much as you can know about North Korea.

Before we get into your interesting book project about Samsung and corruption, can you give us a quick sense of, what do you make of the two Koreas talking about the prospect of creating a more advanced state of peace, more than just the cessation of war but a more neighborly environment on the Korean peninsula? Also, how do you think Trump is doing toward helping or hurting that process?

GEOFFREY CAIN: Good questions, Devin. There have been some major changes over the past year on the Korean peninsula. One of the biggest changes I think is this prospect for peace. It's a distant prospect, but it's something that the South Koreans in particular are moving toward.

I was just reading the Hankyoreh newspaper in South Korea—this is the main left-wing newspaper—and I was surprised at this opinion writer's comment. He called for an "inter-Korean confederation" instead of simply peace talks or a summit. I think that is a sign. Once you have a major left-wing paper which supports the current administration starting to talk about these big measures, forming some sort of legal body that operates with North Korea as some sort of federation, then you know that public perceptions are changing there and that the way Koreans see themselves is different than it was in the past.

I think that this is something that is worth watching, and it might grow into something much bigger. I think that there has been a lot of skepticism globally over what South Korean President Moon Jae-in is doing, but I do see more promise than what the skeptics are saying because I think that a lot of South Koreans do see the long-term benefit to growing closer to the North Koreans and setting up economic corridors or economic projects, roads or railways that would link the Korean peninsula all the way to Russia and Europe. These are important to the future of the South Korean economy.

DEVIN STEWART: More so than the Kaesŏng industrial project that fizzled out in previous talks?

GEOFFREY CAIN: I think the Kaesŏng project was more symbolic than anything. When previous administrations were starting that, I think they anticipated Kaesŏng being a symbolic experiment to see if both sides could come together and work together.

Yes, it is true that it did fizzle out. Tensions got high. That was about 10 years ago I remember, when the South Korean naval corvette, the Cheonan, was sunk. That was the moment that started this standoff that went on until the first year of the Trump administration before this current situation.

DEVIN STEWART: What is the political and public opinion environment in South Korea regarding the North? Do you see other signs that a so-called "peace regime" can be created, and what would that look like?

GEOFFREY CAIN: I think something akin to a peace regime can be created in the long term. Getting there is the complicated part. There are so many roadblocks in the way to any sort of peace regime, the first one being the fact that the Korean peninsula is still at war. South Korea is the only party in that war to have not signed the armistice of 1953, which ceased hostilities. There has been no peace treaty, and the South Koreans are going to have to get over this major hurdle.

The second problem is UN sanctions and U.S.-led sanctions, which are tighter now than ever. It used to be in North Korea that if you wanted to invest or do business or look at some sort of industrial project—they have these free trade zones there—the main rule was that you had to avoid these dual-use products, which means that you can't be making something that could be used for both civilian and military purposes.

If you were manufacturing a truck that can be used—and this is a real case that happened—but a truck that is supposed to be used for transporting timber is somehow used to transport missile components, that would be an example of a dual-use product because it can be used toward North Korea's military regime. That used to be the rule, and I've looked through a lot of these more recent UN sanctions, and the overall feel that you get from them is that just about every type of business right now in North Korea is illegal in some way, essentially illegal by international law.

This is something that makes it harder, I would say, for there to be a peace regime on the Korean peninsula because opening these economic ties, getting Samsung, Hyundai, these South Korean companies, to invest in North Korea, now it's going to be a lot harder than it was in the past, and they have invested in the past.

DEVIN STEWART: Is the United States being helpful? What's your assessment of Trump's approach toward making progress with North Korea? For example and a little bit more nuance, there has been some speculation on 38 North, the website, and also this type of analysis appeared in The New Yorker, that there is a schism or division of points of view within the White House or at least within the administration that President Trump feels the correct approach is to build a personal relationship with Kim Jong-un and to explore and consider the pursuit of a peace regime that might be perhaps in parallel with denuclearization—Victor Cha has written about this approach as well at Georgetown—while the rest of his team apparently thinks that denuclearization has to come first and that that's the only way that America feels is acceptable and to pursue peace afterward.

Do you think that's an accurate description of what's going on, and what's your assessment of what is the correct approach?

GEOFFREY CAIN: I do think that is what is going on right now, but I think to answer the question first we have to go back and lay out exactly what has happened over the past eight months because it's just been a roller coaster of diplomacy followed by arguments followed by diplomacy. It's been a kiss-and-fight situation.

Just to remind our listeners, this all started back around December of 2017, January of 2018, when White House officials and Pentagon officials were entertaining the possibility of a "bloody nose" strike on North Korea that would be used to take out any missile or nuclear capabilities. Obviously, a lot of people thought that was a bad idea because it could spark a nuclear war. It's extremely risky, and on top of that we don't know where a lot of these purported weapons are. We know where a lot of them are, but we would be shooting in the dark in a few cases.

It was with the Olympics in South Korea in February that Moon Jae-in, who was a relatively new president at the time, saw this opportunity to bring the two sides together, America and North Korea. North Korea sent a last-minute delegation to the Olympics, and that was the moment when you had all these parties in one place. That was when diplomacy started getting moving.

In the lead-up to the summit between North Korea and the United States in June 2018 there was a period there when Trump was making all these plans, and the White House was preparing for this summit in Singapore. There was one point when Trump said that he was backing out. He wrote this mean letter to Kim Jong-un. Then they came back together. The South Koreans brought them back together again, and in the end they held the summit.

There was one major benefit to the summit I think that people aren't giving either side credit for, and it's that late last year was a very scary time, and it did look like both sides could be headed toward conflict. We'll never know what would have happened if we didn't have the summit, but the summit might have defused what was possibly coming, a conflict.


GEOFFREY CAIN: I think that's great. That's something that we need to give credit to Kim Jong-un and Trump and Moon Jae-in for.

Since then things have been, predictably in some ways, falling apart. Pompeo has made some claims that North Korea promised to denuclearize completely, and North Korea said, "Well, we never actually agreed to that." It was a vague document that they signed. Denuclearization was one of the goals, but that's an extremely vague statement. Denuclearization is something that takes years and years.

It's not something that can be done overnight, and in those many years of denuclearizing you never know when somebody is going to change their mind or somebody might decide to cheat the deal, or the American side might back out and say: "We don't like this anymore. We feel that you're hiding information from us." This is something that I think both sides are wary of the other side on.

Just to be clear, essentially you were asking what comes first, the peace regime or the denuclearization. Is that essentially it?

DEVIN STEWART: That's part of the question. Yes, go for that one. That's probably simplifying things, but that's one way to look at it, sure.

GEOFFREY CAIN: With the way things stand now I don't think the U.S. side is going to accept any sort of peace regime until after North Korea is completely committed to full denuclearization and takes serious steps toward that. I think the American side has made it very clear that that's the stance. That's not just Donald Trump's stance, but that's something that we've seen in a lot of presidential administrations in America.

I think that the South Koreans have realized this. They have calculated that there's a high risk that this denuclearization issue is not going to get too far, so I think that's why they're moving ahead and Moon Jae-in is jumping in with some pretty serious proposals for a railway and a network that would be set up running from South Korea through North Korea, and through Russia. It would essentially be connecting South Korea, which is essentially an island, to the rest of the world, and that would be good for the current economy of South Korea because they are in some trouble right now.

DEVIN STEWART: Do you see a way in which we do get to a more peaceful situation there?

GEOFFREY CAIN: Yes, I do. I'm not sure where this will head right now. I'm not totally sure.

DEVIN STEWART: Well, there's a prospect of Trump meeting Kim Jong-un again. Trump is said to be capricious and whimsical. Maybe he'll say something like he is willing to sign some kind of symbolic document about ending the war or something like that or some other type of gesture that doesn't seem to hurt American interests too much. What do you think? Is that too optimistic?

GEOFFREY CAIN: No, no. I think that Trump has made it clear that he wants to do something historic. That was the implication of the first summit, too. I think that he wants to go down in history as a president who did something just great and bombastic for world peace. He doesn't want to be seen as a bad guy in all of this.

It's true that he has his ego and he has his media showmanship, his Twitter. A lot of this is in many ways a spectacle. A lot of this is designed to get the maximum attention, the maximum exposure for his administration in a good way. On that assumption, there is a good chance that he will draft and sign some sort of symbolic document. He sees himself as a president who could actually bring peace to the peninsula, and if we get to that stage—obviously lots of things being in the way right now—I do think that he will entertain signing a peace treaty with North Korea and ending the Korean War.

Then the question is: When the peace treaty is signed, will the North Koreans honor it? The North Korean side has done things like this, not with a peace treaty, but in the past they have said, "That statement that we made doesn't really reflect the reality." They go back and rewrite statements that they make and say that it's not in effect anymore.

It's hard to say if a peace treaty will be the final stage in this whole process. It might turn out to be just the first step in many long steps.

DEVIN STEWART: There is never a real final stage to anything, right?

GEOFFREY CAIN: That's true.

DEVIN STEWART: But it's certainly a piece of the puzzle.

Let's switch gears a little bit to your book. I think it's tentatively called The Republic of Samsung. What is this book about? What did you learn as you researched and wrote it? How has it been received, because it's a pretty touchy topic?

GEOFFREY CAIN: It's touchy in South Korea. It is sensitive.

The background to this book is that I had first arrived in South Korea in 2009, and the Fast Company magazine, which is a technology magazine in New York City, contacted me and said, "We're doing a big story on Samsung." This was just as Samsung was starting to enter the global smartphone market, just before the Apple-versus-Samsung wars had been kicked off and there was a massive series of lawsuits between them.

I visited the Samsung campus for this story and spent two days interviewing executives, seeing the grounds, seeing what they were working on. It was really interesting. They had a lot of cool gadgets in there that I didn't expect.

One example was they were talking about foldable phones as early as I think 2010. That was on a different trip. But now they're talking about releasing a foldable phone, and they were talking about it almost 10 years ago at this company. I thought, Okay, that's interesting. So there's this global tech giant that nobody knows much about.

DEVIN STEWART: Foldable, as in like a clamshell? What do you mean "foldable"?

GEOFFREY CAIN: Like a phone that folds.


GEOFFREY CAIN: It folds like a wallet.

DEVIN STEWART: You mean a flexible material.

GEOFFREY CAIN: Yes, a flexible display. That was their big thing. They were trying to create and commercialize a flexible display that could be used on smartphones.

Just going through this company and interviewing people I thought it was so fascinating that there was this massive conglomerate that accounts for about 20 percent of South Korean exports, that Samsung Electronics alone accounts for these exports, which is one company within the conglomerate—

DEVIN STEWART: And a significant amount of its gross domestic product (GDP).

GEOFFREY CAIN: Yes, significant.

I thought it was so fascinating that this company was so massive and so important. They make all the semiconductors in all of our TVs and smartphones, they make all of the displays that we use. Even a lot of iPhone models have had Samsung displays, Samsung chips, so Apple depends on Samsung, Sony depends on Samsung. Pretty much everyone in this tech space depends in some way on Samsung to supply them with a part that they need, that they can't get in many other places.

So there is this company, and they don't have a story. There's no Steve Jobs, there's no Mark Zuckerberg. There's no, "Who's the guy who runs this thing?”

As I was researching Samsung I was also traveling to North Korea. I found it interesting how I would talk to North Koreans, and a lot of the things that they would say about their dear leader were similar to how people at Samsung talk about their chairman, Lee Kun-hee. They would memorize parts of his speeches. We'd be talking, doing interviews, and they would start quoting parts of Chairman Lee's speeches and say: "This day he said that we must change everything except your wife and children," and "He wanted to create a new society. He brought us into the future." Literally, people in North Korea would say very similar things. I thought it was so fascinating.

North Korea holds the Arirang Mass Games every year, which is this massive thing in the football stadium where everybody gets in formation. They hold up these placards and make images of propaganda symbols. They make all these images and stuff.

Until recently, Samsung held the same game, a mass games. They would get all their recruits together, and they would all hold up placards, and they would make a smartphone, or they would make a TV, and then they would sing songs together. There's this shared culture I found between North and South Korea that still lingers in South Korea. It was only about 30 years ago that South Korea was a very militaristic dictatorship.

So I wanted to explore the cultural side of this story, looking at how this company operates or has operated in the past on a very militaristic structure, run by this three-generation dynasty that has had some serious dynastic drama, not unlike what has happened in North Korea—obviously there are no executions in Samsung; I'm not accusing them of that—in terms of family battles for the throne, in terms of people being effectively exiled because they're on the bad side of their father. It was so interesting to see this play out in both South and North Korea. That was my purpose in writing the book.

DEVIN STEWART: Why was the book seen as controversial? I understand there is a corruption element to the story.

GEOFFREY CAIN: Yes. There is a big element of corruption. Chairman Lee Kun-hee, the current chairman of Samsung, was twice convicted of white-collar crimes. One was tax evasion, and the first time he was convicted of another crime that was white collar. Both times he didn't serve a day in prison despite getting a suspended prison sentence, and he was actually pardoned by the president both times. So you have the most powerful businessman in the country being let out.

DEVIN STEWART: What's going on there?

GEOFFREY CAIN: Samsung is extremely powerful. If you look at the top 10 leaders of the biggest chaebol groups in South Korea, the chaebol being conglomerates, more than half of them are actually run by convicted criminals, usually convicted of embezzlement or bribery. There was one case where one of the chairmen threatened a group of people with a steel pipe and kidnapped someone, and he was actually sentenced.

Almost all of these guys have been let off or pardoned or given light prison sentences that they never end up serving, and that's because the groups—Samsung, Hyundai, SK—are integral to the South Korean economy. When judges convict a lot of these guys, they say: "We're going to take into account your contribution to the national economy. We see that we need you, and therefore we're going to go light on you."For that reason, South Korea goes notoriously light on white-collar crime.

DEVIN STEWART: Is there some analogy in the United States to that type of treatment? There is a lot of hand-wringing these days about we're now at the 10th anniversary of the financial crisis, and a lot of people are saying not enough people went to jail and that there wasn't enough accountability. Do you think what you're describing is completely alien to other democracies, or do you think it's unique to Korea?

GEOFFREY CAIN: I think that part of it is unique to Korea. Yes, it's true that in 2008 almost not a single banker went to prison for what happened. Also, it's hard to prove that a lot of these guys committed actual crimes. They were gambling on the market, which is not necessarily illegal despite being immoral. It's true that the government did go light on these bankers in 2008.

But South Korea is different. Imagine first of all if every major company in America were run by a family dynasty. Imagine if Ray Kroc—the former head of McDonald's—for example, was arrested for bribing the president, and then from his jail cell he was still running McDonald's. There was no board meeting and they forced him out and told him to step down. The shareholders still vote in favor of Ray Kroc. They still think that he's so indispensable to America, to American might, that he can't be ousted from his company. Then imagine he's sitting in jail for two years running McDonald's from his cell, and the president—when he was alive, I guess it would be Ronald Reagan—says: "All right. You have your pardon now. You're important, so go back to McDonald's, go back to your office, and keep running McDonald's for America. It's important, man.”

In that sense, what Korea has is way more extreme.

DEVIN STEWART: Did some of the political corruption come into the story of your book as well, like the impeachment of Park Geun-hye?

GEOFFREY CAIN: Yes. President Park Geun-hye, just to tell our listeners, was the previous president of South Korea who was impeached in 2017 for her role in a massive bribery scandal that brought down a lot of the ruling classes of South Korea, and I'm talking ruling classes that go back to the dictators of the 1960s and 1980s, a lot of the same people in power.

This all started in I think October 2016 when JTBC, a Korean news outlet, published this tablet they had found, and the tablet showed that there was this daughter of a shamanistic cult leader who had access to President Park Geun-hye's speeches.

DEVIN STEWART: This is the daughter of the—

GEOFFREY CAIN: The dictator, yes.

DEVIN STEWART: The shaman was advising Park's father, who was the dictator.

GEOFFREY CAIN: Yes. That's what makes it so interesting. It was the same lineage. It was the same two dynasties working together.

DEVIN STEWART: The shaman dynasty and the two heads of state.

GEOFFREY CAIN: Yes, and the dictator's daughter. It's the South Korean story over and over.

DEVIN STEWART: The shaman and the dictator's daughter. That sounds like a great book title.

GEOFFREY CAIN: Maybe that should be the book title.

DEVIN STEWART: It would be less controversial.


DEVIN STEWART: Tell us about this dynastic and repetitious collusion, if you will. What was that relationship between the shaman and the head of state over two generations?

I have to say, by the way—I don't know if we've talked about this before—it's not that unusual in Asia to have spiritual advisors having a lot of influence to the prime minister or president of a country. A lot of Southeast Asian countries have spiritual advisors who have a lot of power. It's not completely strange, but what was the situation in Korea?

GEOFFREY CAIN: You are right. It's not strange at all. It's something that's quite common.

In this case, in Korea, the father, Choi Tae-min, was a shamanistic cult leader who had advised her father. What happened was that Park Geun-hye's two parents were both assassinated in the end. Her mother was assassinated in [1974] and then her father in 1979 by his intelligence chief.

Park Geun-hye is 20-something at this time. She's essentially an orphan, parentless. She wrote in her memoir about how tragic her life was, how dark it was, and how she always felt alone like she couldn't trust anybody. She set up her house to be almost a museum for her dead father. It was this pastor, Choi Tae-min, who contacted her. According to WikiLeaks, there were some cables on this. WikiLeaks talked about how there were these rumors that this cult leader had gotten complete control over Park Geun-hye's mind and body in her younger years.

This pastor died I think in the 1980s some time and his daughter befriended Park Geun-hye and became this extremely influential person around her who would edit her speeches for her, who would help her choose her fashion before she gave speeches. She was basically Park Geun-hye's right-hand woman. This led to all these rumors in South Korea that she was running a shadow government, that she was directing a lot of the key decisions that were being made. A lot of these just turned out to be rumors. We don't really know the full truth on the matter, but we do know that she had a lot of influence over Park Geun-hye in the end.

When this whole scandal happened and the evidence was coming out of the Blue House, the president's house, the prosecutors were raiding people who knew about what was going on, and the evidence was really strange. The Blue House that she was running was literally like her kingdom. She would spend a lot of her time alone. She wouldn't come out and talk with her aides. Her aides didn't know much about her and her personality, it turned out. It was just a dark, strange story.

When I was writing about it I just kept thinking to myself, This is one of the strangest stories I've ever heard about a president of a democratic country, to have this thing going on.

In October 2016 JTBC, which does investigative news in Korea, released this tablet, and it showed all this evidence, that she was editing speeches, that she had access to all this top-secret information despite not having a security clearance. She wasn't an employee of the government.

This led to a very swift downfall. Once that tablet came out, the allegations spread. There were more accusations. The prosecutors had to open an investigation. There were protests in the street. I think at one point there were more than 100,000 protestors. The number might even be bigger.

DEVIN STEWART: A candle vigil?

GEOFFREY CAIN: Yes, the vigils. The prosecutors at one point homed in on Samsung, which is one of the most powerful companies in Korea.

DEVIN STEWART: So this is the connection.

GEOFFREY CAIN: This is the connection. They raided Samsung Electronics, and they found evidence.

DEVIN STEWART: Why did they zero in on them in the first place?

GEOFFREY CAIN: This gets long-winded and complicated. In July 2015 there was a merger between two Samsung companies, between Samsung C&T and Cheil. This is the construction arm and basically the de facto holding company of Samsung. They were merging it because—they denied this, by the way—they were creating more shareholding value for their heir, who is the vice chairman, Lee Jae-yong, in English, Jay Lee.

There was a foreign hedge fund named Elliott Management that had just opposed this merger because they thought it was completely denying shareholders their rights. Shareholders were losing money. But in the end, the vote went in favor of Samsung because of the National Pension Service of Korea. The National Pension Service holds a huge stake and often casts the defining shareholding vote in a lot of these company mergers.

People were surprised because a lot of people I talked to when it was happening—these are shareholding analysts—thought that the merger made no sense from a business standpoint, from an economic standpoint. It benefited the ruling family at the expense of a lot of other people, and then the pension service comes along and had an internal finding that they would lose money at the beginning with this merger, but they voted in favor of it anyway.

It turned out later on that the allegation that the prosecutors unearthed was that Samsung's leader, Lee Jae-yong, was preparing for his succession, and the prosecutors alleged at the time that he had given payments to this crony of the president and bought her daughter a horse for slightly less than $1 million named Vitana V.

DEVIN STEWART: That was the horse's name?

GEOFFREY CAIN: That was the horse's name, and she was training out there in Germany somewhere preparing for the Asian Games and the Olympics to have this wonderful career as an equestrienne.

DEVIN STEWART: This horse became a big symbol for the Korean public of egregious corruption.

GEOFFREY CAIN: Egregious corruption. It became a huge symbol. This horse was a huge part of the story. There were articles all about the horse. People wanted to know how much—

DEVIN STEWART: Lots of pictures?

GEOFFREY CAIN: Lots of pictures. It was a tabloid thing, like: "How much does this horse cost? Does a horse usually cost this much?"A lot of Koreans didn't even realize that a serious horse for a serious rider, that's serious money right there.

On top of that, the prosecutors found that this company that the donations were going to from Samsung was set up in Germany a day before they had their first meeting, and I think it had one employee who actually was trained in equestrian sports. It was really shady. It was some sort of front.

DEVIN STEWART: Not a good look.

GEOFFREY CAIN: Not a very good look. And then people were asking, "Well, why the heck would Samsung"—a giant electronics company—"donate horse and money to this woman and this company who are really shady? What's going on here?"

DEVIN STEWART: So the prosecutors go in and they—

GEOFFREY CAIN: The prosecutors go in, and they found that the reason this payment happened was because they wanted political support for the Blue House, for the president's office, to pressure the National Pension Service to vote in favor of that merger to help Jay Lee become the next chairman of Samsung so that he could get enough shareholding value so that he could elevate to the leader of the country's biggest company.

This spawned a massive corruption scandal. Other companies were raided, too. In the end, in his first trial, Jay Lee was sentenced to five years in prison for bribery, which is a pretty light sentence but in Korea that was a heavy sentence because usually they get around two years for this sort of crime.

In his second trial, the judge upheld some of his bribery charges but then let him out of jail early. So he's still a convicted criminal, and he's still the vice chairman of Samsung. He still sits on the board despite having just gotten out of jail.

This kind of thing can only happen in Korea when it comes to a developed democracy, this sort of corporate governance problem.

DEVIN STEWART: Do you feel like Korean society is doing enough to preclude or be more vigilant on corruption cases going forward?

GEOFFREY CAIN: A lot of Koreans do want to see this change, especially on the left. There have been some big movements over the past couple of years to clean up Korea's corporate governance, but it's simply not enough.

Tomorrow Moon Jae-in is going to North Korea, and in his entourage is going to be the convicted head of Samsung, Lee Jae-yong. On the one hand, the president is promising to his people that he is going to clean up corporate corruption—that was one of his major promises at the beginning of his presidency—and now he's just bringing them on this delegation. What kind of message does that send?

I think that right there says a lot, that the government simply doesn't have the willpower and maybe even the power itself to reform these conglomerates because they are so keystone, they are so integral to the Korean economy. The Korean nation is built around them, and I think that's why Korea can't do much about them.

DEVIN STEWART: Is that the conclusion of your book?

GEOFFREY CAIN: Yes. I'm still waiting to see how this is all going to play out because Jay Lee hasn't had his Supreme Court trial yet. He's still going to have another trial, and he could be completely let off, he could be innocent. We don't know how that's going to turn out.

But yes, for the most part the conclusion of my book, when looking at this political problem of corruption in Korea, the fact is that Korea as a country is built around these companies more so than, say, the United States or the United Kingdom were built around their factories when they were industrializing.

Korea as a country is built around four major conglomerates, Samsung, Hyundai, LG, and SK. To challenge one of those, to challenge their ruling dynasties, is in many ways to challenge Korea itself as a country. A lot of Koreans still feel that way, and they don't want to see these people in jail.

DEVIN STEWART: Geoff, this has been fantastic and a tour de force on remembering all of those legal points and all the ins and outs of these court cases.

Before we go, can you just give us a teaser about your next big book project?

GEOFFREY CAIN: I've been interviewing Uyghurs from Western China, and I'm putting together a new project that's called The Perfect Police State, a tentative title, but I want to write a book about what's happening in Western China now, where Muslims are being put in concentration camps. I think it's one of the major human rights crises of our times, and I don't think it's getting enough attention. I think that a lot of the global reaction to what's going on there is muted in many ways. I hope that I can shine a light on what's going on.

DEVIN STEWART: Geoffrey Cain is a writer based in Seoul and in Washington, DC. Good luck for your next book project, Geoff, and see you again soon.

GEOFFREY CAIN: Thanks, Devin.

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