Sung-Jo Park, born in 1935, majored in economics and political science at SNU, Universität Würzburg, and Freie Universität. He earned his doctorate in political science from Freie Universität in 1963, and in 1963 and 1964 he was a postdoctoral researcher at the Sorbonne in Paris. Later he worked in regional development in Thailand, and in 1973 he completed the habilitation process in social sciences at Ruhr-Universität Bochum. In 1978 he accepted an appointment as professor of economics at the East Asia Institute at Freie Universität, the first such position created in Europe. He stayed there for 25 years, teaching and conducting research in economics and political science at the Department of Political and Social Sciences. Sung-Jo Park is particularly interested in system transformation from a comparative perspective. Shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall, he organized a conference between Freie Universität and SNU that dealt with a comparison of the conditions for unity in Germany and Korea. It took place annually, alternating between Berlin and Seoul. Due to his experiences with unity in Germany, Sung-Jo Park was involved in the publication of a bestseller in 2005 that detailed possible consequences of a rapprochement between North and South Korea. In the mid-1990s Park initiated collaboration between Freie Universität and the automotive company KIA as well as between Samsung and the University of Applied Sciences, Technische Fachhochschule Berlin – today Beuth-Hochschule. As a result, Korean engineers took part in intercultural training courses in Berlin.
After his retirement in 2003, Sung-Jo Park spent nine years in Korea, Japan, the People's Republic of China, and Mongolia working to strengthen relations between the local universities and local industry with universities in Germany. From 2003 to 2006 he held the Brain Korea Professorship at the prestigious Graduate School of Public Administration at SNU. This was followed by an Endowed Chair at the University of Ulsan, which was founded by Hyundai Heavy Industries and an Endowed Chair at Dong-A-University in Busan (South Korea). In 2005 he received a prestigious academic award, the Korea Broadcasting System Overseas Korean Award. He had visiting professorships at Harvard University and Tokyo University, among others.
Many factors were presented as evidence for Sung-Jo Park's worthiness to receive the Federal Cross of Merit. For example, he held numerous visiting professorships both in South Korea and abroad. He also had various senior posts at South Korean colleges and universities, including the Institute for Peace and Unification Studies at SNU. Based on his achievements, he was supported by numerous research grants from the German Research Foundation (DFG), the Volkswagen Foundation, the Fondation Entente Franco-Allemande, the Japan Foundation, and Tokyo University. In numerous monographs Park examined the Japanese, Korean, and East Asian economies, the possibilities for Korean unification with reference to Germany, and the Korean economic transformation, as well as innovative strategies, i.e., for the automotive industry.
In addition, the numerous honorary positions held by Park were identified. These include vice presidencies at universities in the People's Republic of China and in Belgrade. Emphasis was placed on his initiative in establishing the Korean Society for European Studies, which he chaired from 1989 to 1991. In 1982 he was a board member of the Euro-Asia Management Association, an organization he helped to found. From 2000 onward he directed the Panel for Intercultural Competence at Freie Universität Berlin.
Furthermore, Sung-Jo Park was one of the first scholars to deal intensively with the academic transfer of experiences with German unification and research on re-unification in Korea with respect to the situation in Germany as a possible model. He worked closely with German and Korean experts in this field. To this end, in 2005 he initiated collaboration between the Hanns Seidel Foundation and the Graduate School of Public Administration in Seoul, which is the first formal collaboration between a German foundation established in Korea and a research institute at a Korean university. This led to the creation of the Institute for Peace and Unification Studies at SNU. It is mainly due to efforts by Sung-Jo Park that this institute, which specializes in comparative studies on the topic as well as the exchange of experts, has become one of the most influential institutions in the field.
An additional aspect is that Sung-Jo Park significantly promoted intensive academic exchange between scholars and students in South Korea and Germany, even after his retirement from active teaching. On a regular basis he initiated and organized joint research projects, conferences, and workshops. He utilized his many positions in Germany to promote social science-based Asia studies and area studies in Germany and to anchor them on an institutional level, particularly through the partnership between Freie Universität Berlin and Seoul National University. He was able to facilitate contacts between the involved ministries and research institutes.
It was stressed that a large part of the close academic exchange between Freie Universität Berlin and several Japanese universities is due to efforts by Sung-Jo Park. The cooperation with the University of Tokyo, which was initiated in 1991 by Park, is very important for the degree programs in Japanese studies that are offered by Freie Universität. Through his research projects in German-Japanese comparison and European-Asian comparison, Sung-Jo Park paved the way for the internationalization of research in Japanese studies in Germany. Through his studies and analyses of the economic and social restructuring, in particular of Japanese and Korean society, Professor Park contributed significantly to a better understanding of East Asia among scholars in Germany and Europe.