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When we’re faced with a video recording of an event—such as an incident of police brutality—we can generally trust that the event happened as shown in the video. But that may soon change, thanks to the advent of so-called “deepfake” videos that use machine learning technology to show a real person saying and doing things they haven’t.

This technology poses a particular threat to marginalized communities. If deepfakes cause society to move away from the current “seeing is believing” paradigm for video footage, that shift may negatively impact individuals whose stories society is already less likely to believe. The proliferation of video recording technology has fueled a reckoning with police violence in the United States, recorded by bystanders and body-cameras. But in a world of pervasive, compelling deepfakes, the burden of proof to verify authenticity of videos may shift onto the videographer, a development that would further undermine attempts to seek justice for police violence. To counter deepfakes, high-tech tools meant to increase trust in videos are in development, but these technologies, though well-intentioned, could end up being used to discredit already marginalized voices. 

(Content Note: Some of the links in this piece lead to graphic videos of incidents of police violence. Those links are denoted in bold.)

Recent police killings of Black Americans caught on camera have inspired massive protests that have filled U.S. streets in the past year. Those protests endured for months in Minneapolis, where former police officer Derek Chauvin was convicted this week in the murder of George Floyd, a Black man. During Chauvin’s trial, another police officer killed Daunte Wright just outside Minneapolis, prompting additional protests as well as the officer’s resignation and arrest on second-degree manslaughter charges. She supposedly mistook her gun for her Taser—the same mistake alleged in the fatal shooting of Oscar Grant in 2009, by an officer whom a jury later found guilty of involuntary manslaughter (but not guilty of a more serious charge). All three of these tragic deaths—George Floyd, Daunte Wright, Oscar Grant—were documented in videos that were later used (or, in Wright’s case, seem likely to be used) as evidence at the trials of the police officers responsible. Both Floyd’s and Wright’s deaths were captured by the respective officers’ body-worn cameras, and multiple bystanders with cell phones recorded the Floyd and Grant incidents. Some commentators credit a 17-year-old Black girl’s video recording of Floyd’s death for making Chauvin’s trial happen at all.

The growth of the movement for Black lives in the years since Grant’s death in 2009 owes much to the rise in the availability, quality, and virality of bystander videos documenting police violence, but this video evidence hasn’t always been enough to secure convictions. From Rodney King’s assailants in 1992 to Philando Castile’s shooter 25 years later, juries have often declined to convict police officers even in cases where wanton police violence or killings are documented on video. Despite their growing prevalence, police bodycams have had mixed results in deterring excessive force or impelling accountability. That said, bodycam videos do sometimes make a difference, helping to convict officers in the killings of Jordan Edwards in Texas and Laquan McDonald in Chicago. Chauvin’s defense team pitted bodycam footage against the bystander videos employed by the prosecution, and lost.

What makes video so powerful? Why does it spur crowds to take to the streets and lawyers to showcase it in trials? It’s because seeing is believing. Shot at differing angles from officers’ point of view, bystander footage paints a fuller picture of what happened. Two people (on a jury, say, or watching a viral video online) might interpret a video two different ways. But they’ve generally been able to take for granted that the footage is a true, accurate record of something that really happened. 

That might not be the case for much longer. It’s now possible to use artificial intelligence to generate highly realistic “deepfake” videos showing real people saying and doing things they never said or did, such as the recent viral TikTok videos depicting an ersatz Tom Cruise. You can also find realistic headshots of people who don’t exist at all on the creatively-named website thispersondoesnotexist.com. (There’s even a cat version.) 

While using deepfake technology to invent cats or impersonate movie stars might be cute, the technology has more sinister uses as well. In March, the Federal Bureau of Investigation issued a warning that malicious actors are “almost certain” to use “synthetic content” in disinformation campaigns against the American public and in criminal schemes to defraud U.S. businesses. The breakneck pace of deepfake technology’s development has prompted concerns that techniques for detecting such imagery will be unable to keep up. If so, the high-tech cat-and-mouse game between creators and debunkers might end in a stalemate at best. 

If it becomes impossible to reliably prove that a fake video isn’t real, a more feasible alternative might be to focus instead on proving that a real video isn’t fake. So-called “verified at capture” or “controlled-capture” technologies attach additional metadata to imagery at the moment it’s taken, to verify when and where the footage was recorded and reveal any attempt to tamper with the data. The goal of these technologies, which are still in their infancy, is to ensure that an image’s integrity will stand up to scrutiny. 

Photo and video verification technology holds promise for confirming what’s real in the age of “fake news.” But it’s also cause for concern. In a society where guilty verdicts for police officers remain elusive despite ample video evidence, is even more technology the answer? Or will it simply reinforce existing inequities? 

The “ambitious goal” of adding verification technology to smartphone chipsets necessarily entails increasing the cost of production. Once such phones start to come onto the market, they will be more expensive than lower-end devices that lack this functionality. And not everyone will be able to afford them. Black Americans and poor Americans have lower rates of smartphone ownership than whites and high earners, and are more likely to own a “dumb” cell phone. (The same pattern holds true with regard to educational attainment and urban versus rural residence.) Unless and until verification technology is baked into even the most affordable phones, it risks replicating existing disparities in digital access. 

That has implications for police accountability, and, by extension, for Black lives. Primed by societal concerns about deepfakes and “fake news,” juries may start expecting high-tech proof that a video is real. That might lead them to doubt the veracity of bystander videos of police brutality if they were captured on lower-end phones that lack verification technology. Extrapolating from current trends in phone ownership, such bystanders are more likely to be members of marginalized racial and socioeconomic groups. Those are the very people who, as witnesses in court, face an uphill battle in being afforded credibility by juries. That bias, which reared its ugly head again in the Chauvin trial, has long outlived the 19th-century rules that explicitly barred Black (and other non-white) people from testifying for or against white people on the grounds that their race rendered them inherently unreliable witnesses. 

In short, skepticism of “unverified” phone videos may compound existing prejudices against the owners of those phones. That may matter less in situations where a diverse group of numerous eyewitnesses record a police brutality incident on a range of devices. But if there is only a single bystander witness to the scene, the kind of phone they own could prove significant.

The advent of mobile devices empowered Black Americans to force a national reckoning with police brutality. Ubiquitous, pocket-sized video recorders allow average bystanders to document the pandemic of police violence. And because seeing is believing, those videos make it harder for others to continue denying the problem exists. Even with the evidence thrust under their noses, juries keep acquitting police officers who kill Black people. Chauvin’s conviction this week represents an exception to recent history: Between 2005 and 2019, of the 104 law enforcement officers charged with murder or manslaughter in connection with a shooting while on duty, 35 were convicted

The fight against fake videos will complicate the fight for Black lives. Unless it is equally available to everyone, video verification technology may not help the movement for police accountability, and could even set it back. Technological guarantees of videos’ trustworthiness will make little difference if they are accessible only to the privileged, whose stories society already tends to believe. We might be able to tech our way out of the deepfakes threat, but we can’t tech our way out of America’s systemic racism. 

Riana Pfefferkorn is a research scholar at the Stanford Internet Observatory

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Q&A with Riana Pfefferkorn, Stanford Internet Observatory Research Scholar

Riana Pfefferkorn joined the Stanford Internet Observatory as a research scholar in December. She comes from Stanford’s Center for Internet and Society, where she was the Associate Director of Surveillance and Cybersecurity.
Q&A with Riana Pfefferkorn, Stanford Internet Observatory Research Scholar
A member of the All India Student Federation teaches farmers about social media and how to use such tools as part of ongoing protests against the government. (Pradeep Gaur / SOPA Images / Sipa via Reuters Connect)
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New Intermediary Rules Jeopardize the Security of Indian Internet Users

New Intermediary Rules Jeopardize the Security of Indian Internet Users
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End-to-end encrypted (E2EE) communications have been around for decades, but the deployment of default E2EE on billion-user platforms has new impacts for user privacy and safety. The deployment comes with benefits to both individuals and society but it also creates new risks, as long-existing models of messenger abuse can now flourish in an environment where automated or human review cannot reach. New E2EE products raise the prospect of less understood risks by adding discoverability to encrypted platforms, allowing contact from strangers and increasing the risk of certain types of abuse. This workshop will place a particular focus on platform benefits and risks that impact civil society organizations, with a specific focus on the global south. Through a series of workshops and policy papers, the Stanford Internet Observatory is facilitating open and productive dialogue on this contentious topic to find common ground. 

An important defining principle behind this workshop series is the explicit assumption that E2EE is here to stay. To that end, our workshops have set aside any discussion of exceptional access (aka backdoor) designs. This debate has raged between industry, academic cryptographers and law enforcement for decades and little progress has been made. We focus instead on interventions that can be used to reduce the harm of E2E encrypted communication products that have been less widely explored or implemented. 

Submissions for working papers and requests to attend will be accepted up to 10 days before the event. Accepted submitters will be invited to present or attend our upcoming workshops. 

SUBMIT HERE

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New York Times reporter Javier Hernandez interveiws REAP's director Scott Rozelle for an edition of Sinosphere. To read the original article, click here.

Nothing stirs passions quite like the debate over the Chinese school system. Critics say it is a test-obsessed bureaucracy that produces students who excel at reciting facts but not much else. Others argue that it is equipping children with exceptionally strong skills, particularly in math and science. Scott Rozelle, a Stanford University economist who runs a rural education program in China, is an author of a new study that challenges popular conceptions of Chinese schools. In a recent conversation, he discussed the strengths and weaknesses of the Chinese education system, as well as the advice he would offer the country’s leaders.
 
Your study finds that Chinese students begin college with some of the strongest critical thinking skills in the world, far outpacing their peers in the United States and Russia. But they lose that advantage after two years. What is going on?
 
It’s a good news, bad news story. The good news: Whatever the heck they do in high school, whether you like it or not, they are teaching massive numbers of kids math, physics and some type of critical thinking skills. What drives me crazy is they’re not learning anything in college. There are no incentives for the kids to work hard. Everyone graduates.
 
Why are high schools doing a better job than colleges?
 
In high school, parents provide oversight. If they don’t think their kid’s being pushed hard, they’re the first ones on the phone, the first ones standing at the teacher’s desk. From the teacher’s view, they have a huge incentive to get their students through the curriculum and get through the tests.
 
Say you are appointed to lead a university in China. What is the first thing you change?
 
In the United States, we get rewarded for good teaching. Your promotions and salary raises depend on you getting good evaluations from students, on performing well in the classroom and winning awards. That’s every bit as important as publishing research. In China, that’s not happening. The professors we work with say, “Why should we push the kids if they’re going to graduate anyway?”
 
A lot of criticism inside and outside of China focuses on the gaokao, the national exam that Chinese students spend years cramming for because it is the main criterion for getting into college. Some people say it is killing creativity. Is it time for change?
 
We plan to study creativity in our next round of exams, and it will be very interesting to see how the Chinese and the other East Asian students perform. A lot of people would say the gaokao is a fair system. Some reforms are needed for the one-test-score-does-all model. We need to reduce the pressure somewhat and to focus teaching on producing better-rounded children.
 
If you were in a room with China’s top leaders, what advice would you give them about the education system?
 
I’d ask: “Why isn’t everybody going to high school? How do we get everybody to go to high school?” It’s a rural problem. Then you ask yourself, “Why aren’t these rural kids going to high school?” Well, it’s because 10, 15, 20 percent of them drop out of junior high school. They aren’t even finishing junior high.
 
What is happening in middle school?
 
This isn’t India, where half the teachers are absent, or Africa, where they haven’t been able to improve the quality of teaching. In China, you’ve got good facilities and good teachers. The curriculum in rural areas is the same as the best that’s taught to the city kids. So what is it?
 
What our work shows very clearly is that it’s really the matter of the individual kids in rural areas. They’re sick. They’ve got uncorrected myopia, malnutrition, anemia and intestinal worms. Forty percent of children in our sample in Guizhou have worms in their stomach. How do you study in elementary school if you’ve got worms in your stomach?
 
At the same time, prosperity is rising and China has become more urban.
 
This is the irony. They have the fastest-growing economy in terms of wealth in Asia. But the kids are a victim of China’s own success. China really grew so fast, and they’ve invested in resources and teachers. But they’ve left behind the human element.
 
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The New York Times writes about REAP's research on comparing the quality of a college education accross China, Russia and the U.S. To read the original article, click here.

BEIJING — Chinese primary and secondary schools are often derided as grueling, test-driven institutions that churn out students who can recite basic facts but have little capacity for deep reasoning.

A new study, though, suggests that China is producing students with some of the strongest critical thinking skills in the world.

But the new study, by researchers at Stanford University, also found that Chinese students lose their advantage in critical thinking in college. That is a sign of trouble inside China’s rapidly expanding university system, which the government is betting on to promote growth as the economy weakens.

The study, to be published next year, found that Chinese freshmen in computer science and engineering programs began college with critical thinking skills about two to three years ahead of their peers in the United States and Russia. Those skills included the ability to identify assumptions, test hypotheses and draw relationships between variables.

Yet Chinese students showed virtually no improvement in critical thinking after two years of college, even as their American and Russian counterparts made significant strides, according to the study.

“It’s astounding that China produces students that much further ahead at the start of college,” said Prashant Loyalka, an author of the study. “But they’re exhausted by the time they reach college, and they’re not incentivized to work hard.”

The findings are preliminary, but the weakness in China’s higher education system is especially striking because Chinese leaders are pressing universities to train a new generation of highly skilled workers and produce innovations in science and technology to serve as an antidote to slowing economic growth.

But many universities, mired in bureaucracy and lax academic standards, have struggled. Students say the energetic and demanding teaching they are accustomed to in primary and secondary schools all but disappears when they reach college.

“Teachers don’t know how to attract the attention of students,” said Wang Chunwei, 22, an electrical engineering student at Tianjin Chengjian University, not far from Beijing. “Listening to their classes is like listening to someone reading out of a book.”

Others blame a lack of motivation among students. Chinese children spend years preparing for the gaokao, the all-powerful national exam that determines admission to universities in China. For many students, a few points on the test can mean the difference between a good and a bad university, and a life of wealth or poverty.
 
When students reach college, the pressure vanishes.

“You get a degree whether you study or not, so why bother studying?” said Wang Qi, 24, a graduate student in environmental engineering in Beijing.

In addition to examining critical thinking skills, the study looked at how Chinese students compared in math and physics. While testing for the United States is not yet available, the researchers found that Chinese students arrived at college with skills far superior to their Russian counterparts.

After two years of college, though, the Chinese students showed virtually no improvement while the Russians made substantial progress, though not enough to catch up.

The Stanford researchers suspect the poor quality of teaching at many Chinese universities is one of the most important factors in the results. Chinese universities tend to reward professors for achievements in research, not their teaching abilities. In addition, almost all students graduate within four years, according to official statistics, reducing the incentive to work hard.

“They don’t really flunk anyone,” said Scott Rozelle, an economist who has studied Chinese education for three decades and a co-author of the study. “The contract is, if you got in here, you get out.”

The problems plaguing the higher education system have taken on new urgency as China’s ruling Communist Party tries to navigate a difficult transition from an economy fueled by manufacturing and assembly-line work to one led by growth in fields such as information technology and clean energy.

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Please note: the start time for this event has been moved from 3:00 to 3:15pm.

Join FSI Director Michael McFaul in conversation with Richard Stengel, Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. They will address the role of entrepreneurship in creating stable, prosperous societies around the world.

Richard Stengel Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Special Guest United States Department of State

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616 Jane Stanford Way
Stanford, CA 94305-6055

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Director, Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies
Ken Olivier and Angela Nomellini Professor of International Studies, Department of Political Science
Peter and Helen Bing Senior Fellow, Hoover Institution
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Michael McFaul is Director at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, the Ken Olivier and Angela Nomellini Professor of International Studies in the Department of Political Science, and the Peter and Helen Bing Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution. He joined the Stanford faculty in 1995.

Dr. McFaul also is as an International Affairs Analyst for NBC News and a columnist for The Washington Post. He served for five years in the Obama administration, first as Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Russian and Eurasian Affairs at the National Security Council at the White House (2009-2012), and then as U.S. Ambassador to the Russian Federation (2012-2014).

He has authored several books, most recently the New York Times bestseller From Cold War to Hot Peace: An American Ambassador in Putin’s Russia. Earlier books include Advancing Democracy Abroad: Why We Should, How We Can; Transitions To Democracy: A Comparative Perspective (eds. with Kathryn Stoner); Power and Purpose: American Policy toward Russia after the Cold War (with James Goldgeier); and Russia’s Unfinished Revolution: Political Change from Gorbachev to Putin.

His current research interests include American foreign policy, great power relations, and the relationship between democracy and development. Dr. McFaul was born and raised in Montana. He received his B.A. in International Relations and Slavic Languages and his M.A. in Soviet and East European Studies from Stanford University in 1986. As a Rhodes Scholar, he completed his D. Phil. in International Relations at Oxford University in 1991. He is currently writing a book on great power relations in the 21st century.

 

 

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Stanford Report: The First Lady of the United States, Michelle Obama, spoke at SCPKU today and said study abroad allows students to realize that countries all have a stake in each other's success.  Following her remarks, she held a conversation with students on the Stanford campu via SCPKU's Highly Immersive Classroom. Read more.

 

 

 

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The Walter H. Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center (APARC) is pleased to announce a suite of training, fellowship, and funding opportunities to support Stanford students interested in the area of contemporary Asia. APARC invites highly motivated and dedicated undergraduate- and graduate-level students to apply for these offerings:

APARC Summer 2023 Research Assistant Internships

APARC seeks current Stanford students to join our team as paid research assistant interns for the duration of the summer 2023 quarter. Research assistants work with assigned APARC faculty members on varied issues related to the politics, economies, populations, security, foreign policies, and international relations of the countries of the Asia-Pacific region. This summer's projects include:

  • The Biopolitics of Cigarette Smoking and Production
  • The Bureaucratic State: A Personnel Management Lens
  • China’s Largest Corporations
  • Healthy Aging in Asia
  • Hiding in Plain Sight: How China Became A Great Power
  • Nationalism and Racism in Asia
  • U.S. Rivals: Construct or Reality?
     

All summer research assistant positions will be on campus for eight weeks. The hourly pay rate is $17.25 for undergraduate students, $25 for graduate students.

The deadline for submitting applications and letters of recommendation is March 1, 2023.

Please follow these application guidelines:

I. Prepare the following materials:


II. Fill out the online application form for summer 2023, including the above two attachments, and submit the complete form.

III. Arrange for a letter of recommendation from a faculty to be sent directly to Shorenstein APARC. Please note: the faculty members should email their letters directly to Kristen Lee at kllee@stanford.edu. We will consider only applications that include all supporting documents.

For more information and details about each summer research project, visit the Summer Research Assistant Internships Page >


 

APARC 2023-24 Predoctoral Fellowship

APARC supports Stanford Ph.D. candidates who specialize in contemporary Asia topics. The Center offers a stipend of $37,230 for the 2023-24 academic year, plus Stanford's Terminal Graduate Registration (TGR) fee for three quarters. We expect fellows to remain in residence at the Center throughout the year and to participate in Center activities.

Applications for the 2023-24 fellowship cycle of the APARC Predoctoral Fellowship are due March 1, 2023.

Please follow these application guidelines:

I. Prepare the following materials:

  • A current CV;
  • A cover letter including a brief description of your dissertation (up to 5 double-spaced pages);
  • A copy of your transcripts. Transcripts should cover all graduate work and include evidence of recently-completed work.

II. Fill out the following online application form, including the above three attachments, and submit the complete application form.

III. Arrange for two (2) letters of recommendation from members of your dissertation committee to be sent directly to Shorenstein APARC.
Please note: the faculty/advisors should email their letters directly to Kristen Lee at kllee@stanford.edu.

We will consider only applications that include all supporting documents. The Center will give priority to candidates who are prepared to finish their degree by the end of the 2023-24 academic year.

For more information, visit the APARC Predoctoral Fellowship Page >


 

APARC Diversity Grant

APARC's diversity grant supports Stanford undergraduate and graduate students from underrepresented minorities who are interested in contemporary Asia. The Center will award a maximum of $10,000 per grant to support a wide range of research expenses.

The Center is reviewing grant applications on a rolling basis.
To be considered for the grant, please follow these application guidelines:

I. Prepare the following materials:

  • A statement describing the proposed research activity or project (no more than three pages);
  • A current CV;
  • An itemized budget request explaining research expense needs.

II. Fill out the following online application form, including the above three attachments, and submit the complete application form.

III. Arrange for a letter of recommendation from a faculty to be sent directly to APARC.

Please note: the faculty members should email their letters directly to Kristen Lee at kllee@stanford.edu.

For more information, visit the APARC Diversity Grant page >

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Predoctoral Fellow Spotlight: Tongtong Zhang Examines Channels for Public Deliberation in China

Political Scientist and APARC Predoctoral Fellow Tongtong Zhang explores how the Chinese Communist Party maintains control through various forms of political communication.
Predoctoral Fellow Spotlight: Tongtong Zhang Examines Channels for Public Deliberation in China
Portrait of Ma'ili Yee, 2020-21 APARC Diversity Fellow
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Student Spotlight: Ma’ili Yee Illuminates a Vision for Building the Blue Pacific Continent

With support from Shorenstein APARC’s Diversity Grant, coterminal student Ma’ili Yee (BA ’20, MA ’21) reveals how Pacific island nations are responding to the U.S.-China rivalry by developing a collective strategy for their region.
Student Spotlight: Ma’ili Yee Illuminates a Vision for Building the Blue Pacific Continent
Stanford main quad at night and text calling for nominations for APARC's 2023 Shorenstein Journalism Award.
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Nominations Open for 2023 Shorenstein Journalism Award

Sponsored by Stanford University’s Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center, the annual award recognizes outstanding journalists and journalism organizations for excellence in coverage of the Asia-Pacific region. News editors, publishers, scholars, and organizations focused on Asia research and analysis are invited to submit nominations for the 2023 award through February 15.
Nominations Open for 2023 Shorenstein Journalism Award
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To support Stanford students working in the area of contemporary Asia, the Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Center is offering research assistant positions for the duration of the 2023 summer quarter, a predoctoral fellowship for the duration of the 2023-24 academic year, and a Diversity Grant that funds research activities by students from underrepresented minorities.

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AHPP flyer for Feb 2, 2023 webinar with portrait of speaker Daniel Bennett

Co-sponsored by Peking University Institute for Global Health and Development, and the Asia Health Policy Program

Depression is the most common mental disorder and is more prevalent among people who live in poverty. Emerging economic literature studies the ways that depression may affect economic decision-making and contribute to intergenerational poverty. Dr. Bennett will describe recent developments in the literature and discuss his recent study of the socioeconomic impacts of depression treatment among underpriviledged adults in Karnataka, India.

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Daniel Bennett is an economist at the Center for Economic and Social Research and the Department of Economics at the University of Southern California. He studies economic development and global health in Africa and South Asia. Recent work examines the relationship between poverty and poor mental health, as well as the indirect consequences of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Sub-Saharan Africa. Other work considers sanitation and hygiene behavior and the organization of pharmaceutical markets. Dr. Bennett collects primary data and uses both experimental and quasi-experimental methods. He received his Ph.D. in 2008 from Brown University.

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Daniel Bennett Associate Professor (Research) of Economics, University of Southern California.
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Kim Namseok, Munhwa Ilbo Correspondent
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This article originally appeared in the Korean daily newspaper Munhwa Ilbo on January 2, 2023. It was translated from Korean by Raymond Ha.

In an exclusive interview for the Munhwa Ilbo, Stanford University professors Gi-Wook Shin and Francis Fukuyama had a conversation on a wide range of topics including the war in Ukraine, U.S.-China competition, and North Korea policy.

The world faces a crisis of political leadership as each country pursues its own interests. Fukuyama stressed the importance of robust international institutions, instead of relying solely on great leaders. He pointed to NATO and the U.S.-Korea alliance as examples of institutions that uphold the liberal international order. In terms of the U.S.-China competition, he said without hesitation that “a democracy like Korea…has to make the decision that it is going to be on the side of democracy.” Fukuyama also noted that in the event of an armed confrontation over Taiwan, Korea would almost certainly be pulled in, given the significant U.S. military presence there. He was skeptical about prospects for progress over North Korea, pointing to the long history of failed negotiations and the lack of viable alternatives. “Not every problem has a solution,” he said.

Gi-Wook Shin, who led the interview, observed that the global decline of democracy appears to have hit a turning point, “although it’s too early to say if there will be a rapid recovery…or a more gradual shift.” As for the state of democracy in the United States, he said, “We will have to wait and see what happens in the 2024 presidential election.” Even though Trump’s political influence may be weaker, he observed, “pro-Trump forces are still part of the system.” In terms of Korea’s foreign policy, Shin emphasized that Seoul “should take [the Taiwan] problem much more seriously.” A crisis in the Taiwan Strait “could become the biggest challenge for the Yoon administration’s foreign policy, not North Korea,” and domestic polarization over China policy is one issue that could threaten to “become extremely controversial.”

The interview was held in-person for one hour at Stanford on December 8, 2022, with a follow-up interview held over the phone on December 27.  


[Gi-Wook Shin] Let’s start by looking back on 2022. How would you summarize this year?

[Francis Fukuyama] I think 2022 was a very good year, where we may have bottomed out in this global move away from democracy and toward authoritarian government. The year really started out in February with the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which looked very, very threatening. China was on a roll. It looked like they were beating everybody in terms of COVID policy. Then, by the end of the year, the Russians got completely bogged down. China experienced mass protests, and there were protests also in Iran. In America’s elections on November 8, all the pro-Trump forces failed to make gains and, in fact, lost almost everywhere. I think that maybe we will look back on 2022 as the year when this democratic recession that has been going on for over 15 years finally bottomed out.

[GWS] I agree, although it’s too early to say if there will be a rapid recovery toward democracy or a more gradual shift. In the United States, we will have to wait and see what happens in the 2024 presidential election. Former President Trump may be weaker politically, but pro-Trump forces are still part of the system. As for the Ukraine war, many people thought Russia would win quite easily, but now it looks like they are struggling. It’s a big question, of course, but how do you think the war will be remembered in history?

[FF] I think that it is going to be remembered as one of the biggest strategic mistakes made by a great-power leader in a very long time. I think that the mistake is directly due to the nature of the political system. You remember that Vladimir Putin was sitting at the end of this 25-foot table with his defense minister because he was so afraid of COVID. He was extremely isolated during the whole pandemic, and he had already isolated himself in a political system where he doesn’t face checks and balances. That kind of decision-making system makes you prone to make even bigger mistakes, because you don’t have other people to test your ideas against. He was completely uninformed about the degree to which Ukraine had developed a separate national identity and that the Ukrainian people were willing to fight for it. He didn’t have any idea how incompetent his own army was. If he had been in a more democratic country that required him to share power with other people, I don’t think he could have made that kind of mistake.

 

The most important thing is the breakdown of the Chinese economic model. For the past decade, the Chinese model has been to pump a huge amount of money into the real estate sector. That model is collapsing. The other big problem is that they don’t have economic growth anymore.
Francis Fukuyama

[GWS] Putin is struggling, as you said. There are a lot of problems in China, but Xi Jinping secured a third term. Authoritarian leaders elsewhere still hold power. By contrast, I don’t think President Biden has shown powerful leadership at home or globally. I don’t see any strong political leaders in the U.K., France, or Germany either.

[FF] I think that although Xi Jinping may succeed in stabilizing the situation in China with the protests over COVID in the short run, he is in a lot of trouble. He was creating all this social instability with the zero-COVID policy. Now that they’ve started to relax it, I think the number of cases and deaths is going to go up very dramatically, but I don’t think they’ve got much of a choice. I think this has probably damaged the people’s sense of Xi’s authority and legitimacy, and I’m not sure he can recover from that.

The most important thing is the breakdown of the Chinese economic model. For the past decade, the Chinese model has been to pump a huge amount of money into the real estate sector. That model is collapsing. The other big problem is that they don’t have economic growth anymore. Some economists think that they’re actually in a recession, with negative growth. This is like what Japan went through in the 1990s. So much of the Chinese government’s legitimacy has been based on having extremely high growth rates, and that period is over. I don’t see how they get it back, and they certainly won’t by inserting the state into every economic decision and controlling their high-tech sector. Their population is shrinking now. I’m not sure that Xi Jinping, in the longer run, is actually going to look like a very effective leader.

[GWS] But in the short term, say the next three to five years, won’t authoritarian leaders be powerful in comparison? Just as “America First” shows, some say there is a crisis of political leadership among Western democracies, including the United States, the United Kingdom, France, and Germany.

[FF] I think that apart from President Zelenskyy in Ukraine, we don’t see any really inspiring leaders in Germany or France or the United States. On the other hand, the nice thing about democracy is that it’s an institutional system for managing change. Biden has turned 80, and Trump himself is in his upper 70s. The leadership in Congress and the Democratic Party are all elderly, but they’re all about to change. In the next election cycle, there is going to be a whole new generation of people that are up-and-coming. I don’t think you need a charismatic leader with great vision, necessarily, to run any of the countries you mentioned.

[GWS] Another question is if the United States can provide global leadership. When Trump was defeated, there was a strong expectation for the Biden administration to restore global order and to do much better than its predecessor. I’m not sure whether that’s happening.

[FF] Again, I think that’s why you want to have international institutions rather than being dependent simply on leaders. This gives an institutional basis for continuity in policy. There are all of these alliance structures, like NATO. People thought that NATO was obsolete and was going to go away. It has actually proved to be very durable. The United States has security ties with Korea and Japan that also are quite old, but they’re still durable. It’s interesting that the authoritarian countries have not been able to create anything comparable to that set of alliances. There is the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), but all the Central Asian states don’t want to be part of this China-Russia dominated organization. We can’t just depend on great leadership.

Korea should proactively participate in upholding and creating an international order that facilitates a resurgence of democracy. Korea has not really played this role before, but with the 10th largest economy in the world, it is now in a position to play a positive role.
Gi-Wook Shin

[GWS] To add on to that, I think Korea should proactively participate in upholding and creating an international order that facilitates a resurgence of democracy. Korea has not really played this role before, but with the 10th largest economy in the world, it is now in a position to play a positive role.

[FF] There is a set of values that underpin America’s alliances, both in Asia and Europe. Throughout the whole Cold War, the Soviet Union never actually invaded a Western democracy, but that’s what Russia did. NATO has suddenly become very relevant once more. I think that both in Korea and Japan, there is also recognition of a comparable challenge from an authoritarian China. Unless all democracies work together and show solidarity with one another, they could be picked off by these two authoritarian powers.

[GWS] There is a lot of debate about whether China is going to invade Taiwan or not. I have a two-part question. First, could the situation in Ukraine reduce the possibility of China invading Taiwan? Second, if China still invades nevertheless, what should Korea do? This is a difficult question for Korea. It cannot say no to the United States as a military ally, but at the same time, it cannot antagonize China. I think this is the most difficult question for Korea at the moment.

[FF] This is a difficult question for the United States because it’s not clear that Congress or the American people actually want to go to war with China in order to save Taiwan. I think if you ask them a polling question stated like that, probably a majority would say, “No, we’re not going to send our troops to die.” But I think it’s likely that the United States will get dragged into such a conflict one way or the other. Among other things, the Chinese would probably have to preempt some of the American forces that are in the theater. American military personnel will get killed as the Chinese attack unfolds, and I think there will be a lot of political pressure to help Taiwan.

[GWS] How much can the United States be involved? Some in Korea are skeptical that Washington will step in.

[FF] This is really the problem. During the Cold War, we had a good idea of what a war would like look like if it actually happened. The military planning was very concretely designed against certain types of escalation. With China, we don’t have a clear set of expectations for what escalation would look like. It could just start with a Chinese invasion. It could start with a blockade. It could start with something in the South China Sea. It could actually start on the Korean Peninsula, with North Korea doing something. If it happens, it’s going to be much more devastating than the war in Ukraine. So much of global production comes out of Asia, and there’s a strong incentive not to let things get out of hand. Whether we have the wisdom to do that is not clear. I also think that people’s expectations and opinions will change once the conflict begins. The moment people see cities being bombed, they will change their minds.

Francis Fukuyama conversing in Gi-Wook Shin's office at Stanford University.
Francis Fukuyama. Kim Namseok/Munhwa Ilbo

[GWS] I also think that a conflict over Taiwan would affect the American people more directly than what is happening in Ukraine. What’s your view on how seriously Korea should be taking this possibility?

[FF] It is likely enough that it is absolutely important for everyone to take it seriously and plan against it. What you want to do is deter China from taking any military action against Taiwan. They’re not going to be deterred unless they see that there’s a response on the other side that is going to raise the cost for them. That’s not going to happen unless people take the scenarios seriously and start thinking about concrete ways that they could help Taiwan or stymie any kind of Chinese attack. I think it is very important for Korea to think this through and think about ways they could support Taiwan and be part of a larger alliance that can push back against China.

[GWS] I keep telling my friends and colleagues in Korea that they should take this problem much more seriously. Taiwan could become the biggest challenge for the Yoon administration’s foreign policy, not North Korea. China policy has become an extremely divisive partisan issue in South Korea, and it could tear the country apart. What advice would you have for President Yoon?

[FF] There’s two things. First is the rhetorical position. Korea should make its position clear in advance that it would oppose Chinese military action and would support the United States, for example. Korea is going to get dragged into this because so much U.S. military equipment is in Korea, and that is going to be moved in closer to the theater. I think making that position clear in advance is important.

The other thing that’s been very clear from the Ukraine war is that democracies are not prepared for an extended conflict. Everybody is running out of ammunition in Europe and the United States is running low on certain types of ammunition. The Ukrainians have used so much of it just in the 10 months they have been fighting. I think that any high-intensity conflict in East Asia is also going to be very costly in terms of supplies. South Korea is in a better position than other countries because it has been preparing for a North Korean attack for decades. Everybody needs to be prepared for an extended conflict. It may not be over in 48 hours.

[GWS] Koreans are quite nervously watching the ongoing escalation of tensions between the United States and China. In the past, the paradigm was “United States for security, China for the economy” (an-mi-gyeong-joong). Now, security and the economy are linked together. The Yoon government is promoting the strengthening of the alliance with the United States, but South Korea faces the fundamental problem of how to position itself as U.S.-China tensions escalate. Do you have any wisdom for Korea?

[FF] I don’t know if it’s wisdom, but I think Korea needs to take a clearer position. Under the previous government, there was a belief that Korea could somehow be halfway between China and the United States. That’s just not a tenable position. The tension between the United States and China has really been driven by China ever since 2013, when Xi Jinping took power. China has become a much more severe dictatorship internally, and it has become much more aggressive externally. You see the influence of the Belt and Road Initiative and the militarization of the South China Sea. In the last 10 or 15 years, China has been picking fights with India, Japan, Korea, and all of Southeast Asia over territorial issues. They built the size of their military much more rapidly than any other great power in that period of time. As a result, the United States and other countries have simply reacted to this. I think that a democracy like Korea cannot pretend that it is somehow in between the United States and China. It has to make the decision that it is going to be on the side of democracy.

[GWS] I agree that an-mi-gyeong-joong is now obsolete, but I think that South Korea must be more sophisticated in its response. As they say, the devil is in the details. On the economy, Seoul can actively work with Washington on areas closely related to security, but it can still partner with Beijing on sectors that are not. There can be a fine-tuned policy.

I now want to ask about North Korea and U.S. policy. I have been saying that the Biden administration policy is one of “strategic neglect,” not the “strategic patience” of the Obama administration. Kim Jong-un keeps testing missiles and provoking, and South Koreans are puzzled by the lack of response from Washington. Why is that? Is it because all the attention is on Ukraine and China?

[FF] Not every problem has a solution, and I don’t think this problem has a solution. You could use diplomacy. You could use military force. You could use deterrence. There are a limited number of possible approaches, and I think none of them are going to work. There has been a long history of negotiation. That has not worked. I think confrontation is not going to work. I think preemption is certainly not going to work. I just don’t think there’s a good solution, so we’ve ended up with trying to ignore the problem by default. Part of the reason North Korea is launching all of these missiles is that they want people to pay attention to them. Ignoring the problem is not much of a solution either, but it’s not as if there is a better solution.

[GWS] I agree with you that for many people in government, North Korea has been a hot potato. You don’t want to touch it because there is no clear solution, and it won’t help your career. But if we just ignore the problem, then five years later it’s going to be worse. What kind of North Korea are we going to face in five or ten years?

[FF] Everybody has been hoping that something would happen internally. It’s fine to think that, but it’s also not taking place. That said, Kim Jong-un is obese and unhealthy. Who knows what might happen?

We've had four elections now where [Trump] was playing a major role in the Republican Party. In three of those elections, he really hurt his own party. He can stir up a third of the electorate that loves him, but it’s never enough to win an election, especially in a swing state.
Francis Fukuyama

[GWS] Let’s now turn to domestic politics here in the United States. I think many Americans were relieved by what happened in the midterm elections last month. Trump’s influence was much more limited than what people thought. But he’s still there, and he’s likely to run again. I think he is still a strong candidate for the Republicans.

[FF] He declared his candidacy, but I think that he is declining very rapidly in influence. We have had four elections now where he was playing a major role in the Republican Party. In three of those elections, he really hurt his own party. He can stir up a third of the electorate that loves him, but it’s never enough to win an election, especially in a swing state. I think he’s gotten crazier in recent months. He is doing so many self-destructive things, having dinner with neo-Nazis and repeating all these conspiracy theories. These are things that no rational candidate would do. The Republicans are going to want somebody that can actually beat the Democrats, and I don’t think it’s going to be him.

[GWS] You don’t expect a rematch between Biden and Trump in 2024?

[FF] This gets into a technical issue, but the Republican primaries are mostly winner-take-all primaries. Any candidate that can get 30% of the vote is likely to be nominated. If you have a Republican field that has several people competing, they may split the alternative vote and Trump may end up winning. I think he still has a good chance of being the Republican nominee. If you’re a Democrat, that’s not the worst thing in the world. It is probably easier to run against Trump than a more normal Republican candidate.

[GWS] Two years is still a long time in politics. You said that Trump is likely to be nominated. Would Biden also run again?

[FF] I think that Biden is going to run again. Part of the problem is in the Democratic Party. It’s not clear who the successor would be. There are a lot of potential new-generation politicians, but I don’t think any of them has enough presence and attention that they can clearly take over the mantle to run as the Democratic candidate. If there is a rematch, I think Biden will win.

[GWS] Now to South Korea. Last June, I did some interviews advocating a parliamentary system, and they received good attention. There is still a lot of hesitancy among Koreans, though. I think there are a few reasons. The first is that we need a strong presidential system to deal with North Korea. There’s no stability if the prime minister keeps changing. Second is that it may drive politicians closer to big business (chaebol) because there’s less direct accountability. What would you suggest for South Korea in terms of institutional reform?

[FF] There are several possibilities even short of a parliamentary system. You can coordinate the presidential and parliamentary terms. It’s still the case that the president has a five-year term, but the legislature is on an even-year term. If you want to have strong government, you need a president that has majority support in the legislature. If they get elected simultaneously on a regular basis, you’re more likely to see strong leadership emerge. In a presidential system, the legislature itself is a check against the president. If you don’t have a strong majority in the legislature, you can’t do anything.

[GWS] That is what is happening right now in Korea.

[FF] In a parliamentary system like the British one, if you have a majority in parliament, you can do what you want. I think the presumption that somehow a presidential system is inevitably stronger than a parliamentary system is not historically correct.

[GWS] Is a parliamentary system maybe one solution to political polarization?

[FF] Sometimes a parliamentary system will have that effect, but the kind of plurality voting system that we have in the United States and in Britain tends to promote polarization. To the extent that you make it possible for third parties to run, that’s probably a better system. If you have more parties and it becomes harder to get a majority in the legislature, that forces coalitions and some degree of power sharing.

Francis Fukuyama 2022

Francis Fukuyama

Olivier Nomellini Senior Fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, Director of the Ford Dorsey Master’s in International Policy, and Professor by Courtesy, Department of Political Science
Full Biography
Gi-Wook Shin

Gi-Wook Shin

Senior Fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, Professor of Sociology, William J. Perry Professor of Contemporary Korea, Director of the Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center, and Director of the Korea Program
Full Biography

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A Conversation with Francis Fukuyama on the Challenges of a Changing Global Order

Shorenstein APARC Encina Hall E301 Stanford University
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Bernard and Susan Liautaud Visiting Fellow

Former President of Mongolia Elbegdorj joins the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies (FSI) and the Walter H. Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center (Shorenstein APARC) in 2023 as Bernard and Susan Liautaud Visiting Fellow, after a career in public service to Mongolia as a Member of Parliament, Prime Minister, and President. Currently, Mr. Elbegdorj is continuing his work to improve public policy, governance, and democracy through the Elbegdorj Institute, a think tank he founded in 2008. Mr. Elbegdorj holds a Master of Public Administration from Harvard University John F. Kennedy School of Government (2002) and Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism from Land Forces Military Academy of Lviv of former USSR (1988).

While at Stanford, his focus will include democracy, disarmament, and governance across Asia.

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