[Rebroadcast] Examining the Korean Economy

April 13th, 2017

TomByrne_2.jpgIn this episode of Korean Kontext, guest host Kyle Ferrier, KEI's director of academic affairs and research, sits down with Korea Society President Tom Byrne. Before joining the Korea Society earlier this year, Tom worked for Moody's Investor Services, where he was senior vice president.


Kyle and Tom discuss the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis as well as the 2008 Global Financial Crisis from the Korean economy's perspective. They also talk about sources of risk in the Korean economy today, the potential impact of the Fed raising interest rates, and much more.

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South Korea’s Growing Role in Myanmar

April 7th, 2017

Fumagalli.jpgEver since Myanmar's political and economic opening several years ago, countries have been looking to get in on the ground floor to build ties with this emerging economy in Southeast Asia. And South Korea has put itself in the game in a big way - devoting millions to development projects in Myanmar and encouraging private sector investment in the country. 


This week's guest, Dr. Matteo Fumagalli, recently wrote a paper for KEI about South Korea's role in Myanmar, including room for improvement when it comes to strategic planning. In this episode, he sits down with Korean Kontext host Jenna Gibson to discuss the economic and security implications of Seoul's burgeoning ties with Naypyidaw.


To read Dr. Fumagalli's full paper, please click here.


Image from LG전자's photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

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Korean American Day 2017: Chemical Engineer Dr. Kook-wha Koh

March 31st, 2017

Dr_Koh.pngDr. Kook-wha Koh first arrived in the United States in 1965, studying chemical engineering at the University of Iowa. She has since become a successful entrepreneur, founding Chrysan industries to provide important lubricants for Michigan manufacturers. Because of her contributions to science and to her community, KEI chose Dr. Koh as one of our 2017 Korean American Day Honorees.


This is the second of our interviews with our three 2017 Korean American Day honorees. To listen to the episode with NASA engineer Dr. David Oh, please click here!

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An American Executive in a Korean Chaebol

March 24th, 2017

31964695974_9b6a4bf8b8_z.jpgAs the highest-ranking non-Korean executive at Hyundai Motors headquarters, Frank Ahrens spent three years gaining an insider's perspective on Korean corporate culture. In his new memoir, "Seoul Man," Ahrens recounts the ups and downs of his journey as an American trying to acclimate to daily life in Korea and to working life inside one of the country's top chaebols.


We talk with Frank this week about his experiences joining Hyundai and his new book. Frank became a director at Hyundai Motor in 2010 and was promoted to Vice President of Global Corporate Communications two years later. He created the company’s first English-language corporate media site, including a blog and Twitter feed, and helped establish the company’s first public relations operation in the Middle East in Dubai.

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The Chinese Perspective on THAAD

March 17th, 2017

DSC_8021.jpgEver since last summer, when South Korea and the United States announced they would be deploying the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defense system to the peninsula, China has vociferously protested the decision. Since then, Seoul has accused Beijing of economic retaliation and other forms of pressure, aimed at reversing the deployment. The issue picked up steam earlier this month, as THAAD officially arrived in Korea.


This week, we sat down with China expert Yun Sun to discuss China's side of the THAAD controversy. Sun, who is a Senior Associate with the East Asia Program at the Stimson Center, focuses on Chinese foreign policy and Chinese relations with the U.S. and its neighboring countries. In this episode, she provides insights into why China is so concerned about THAAD, what they are doing to pressure Seoul, and what the parties involved can do to move forward.

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Can Information Really Pry Open North Korea?

March 7th, 2017

North-Korea-and-cell-phones-by-comradeanatolii.jpgMuch has been discussed about the power of outside information to open the eyes of the North Korean people and convince them of the truth about the outside world. Some high-profile defectors have even cited American movies and South Korean dramas as catalysts that pushed them to defect - Park Yeon Mi famously credited the movie Titanic with her moment of realization. But is this kind of information campaign really enough to change North Korea from within?


Jieun Baek's new book - North Korea's Hidden Revolution - focuses on this exact question. In this episode, Korean Kontext host Jenna Gibson sits down with Baek, who is currently a Ph.D candidate at Oxford Universtiy, to discuss how information has changed North Korean society already - and the limits to what it can accomplish. 


Photo from comradeanatolii’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

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New Silk Road? Korea in China’s One Belt, One Road Initiative

February 28th, 2017

Balbina.jpgIn 2013, China announced its One Belt, One Road project, an ambitious attempt to recreate some of the economic networks that once bridged Europe and Asia through the Silk Road. Around the same time, South Korea announced its vision for regional cooperation, the Eurasia Initiative.


What do these two plans have in common? Are the bound to clash? And how realistic are their goals to connect East Asia to Europe, the Middle East, and even Africa? Dr. Balbina Hwang, visiting professor at Georgetown University, digs into the two projects and Korea's place in regional integration.

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[Rebroadcast] The Kim Monarchy: Reframing Political Legitimacy in North Korea

February 21st, 2017

WSTWide.jpgSince the death of Kim Il-sung in 1994 there have been numerous predictions that the collapse of the North Korean political system would be imminent, yet the Kim dynasty continues to rule. In his paper for KEI, Dr. Wang Son Taek argues that the reason we have been so wrong about North Korea's stability is that we need to treat Kim Jong Un more like a monarch than a charismatic leader.
In this episode, Korean Kontext host Jenna Gibson sits down with Dr. Wang to discuss his theory on the legitimacy structure of North Korea's leadership, and what this paradigm shift could mean for how we deal with the reclusive regime.
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Documenting Human Rights in North Korea

February 14th, 2017

OHCHR_complete.pngIn February 2014, the United Nations' special Commission of Inquiry on on Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) launched their report, laying out more than 400 pages of evidence that the regime in Pyongyang was engaged in a variety of human rights violations against their own people. About a year later, the UN opened a new office in Seoul dedicated to continuing the documentation of human rights concerns in the DPRK.


In this episode, Korean Kontext host Jenna Gibson speaks with Signe Poulsen, head of this new UN human rights office in Seoul. They discuss the human rights situation, the work that the UN is doing to document human rights concerns taking place in the DPRK, and what accountability could mean in the future.

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The Tearful Reunion Myth: Exploring Challenges Korean Adoptees Face While Searching for Their Birth Families

February 6th, 2017

Katelyn_Hemmeke.jpgStarting from the period after the Korean War and continuing today, more than 100,000 Korean children were adopted around the world. As they get older, many of them decide to conduct a search for their birth families in Korea, beginning what often turns out to be a long, difficult and emotional process for all involved.


Today's guest, Katelyn Hemmeke, is currently in Seoul as a Fulbright researcher, speaking to adoptees about their experiences conducting a birth family search. She has found that it's often incredibly difficult to find information that can help track down birth families, and that even when a search is successful, the emotional journey is not over. Learn more about the challenges adoptees face when they decide to conduct a birth family search in this week's episode of Korean Kontext.


Photo taken by Andrew Le.

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Using Information to Reduce the North Korean Threat

January 30th, 2017

1613630300_e06e24440d_b_1_.jpgMuch has been said about the power of outside information - news, weather, and even soap operas - to influence the North Korean public. But a new report takes a different angle on a possible information campaign toward the North.


In this new report, North Korea watcher Skip Vincenzo lays out a strategy that would target the North Korean elites and those close to Pyongyang's center of gravity, with the hopes of de-escalating a major crisis. The idea would be to give those elites hope of a life after Kim, encouraging them to lay down arms were an emergency scenario to occur.


Skip joined Korean Kontext host Jenna Gibson for a chat about his report and the information strategy that he proposes, as well as some of the ways it could fit in with what we are already doing to address the North Korean threat.


Please click here to learn more and view the report.


Image from Will De Freitas' photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

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Korean American Day 2017: Exploring Space with Dr. David Oh

January 23rd, 2017

David_Oh.pngGrowing up in Tennessee and Alabama, Dr. David Oh never imagined he would one day be leading a mission to explore a metallic asteroid orbiting between Mars and Jupiter. But as project systems engineer for NASA's Psyche mission and former lead flight director for the Curiousity Mars rover, Dr. Oh has done plenty of extraterrestrial exploring.


Listen to this episode to learn more about these missions, how Dr. Oh sees his Korean-American identity, and what it's like to put your whole family on Mars time.


This is the first of our interviews with the three Korean American Day honorees for 2017, all of whom are doing awesome things in the fields of science and technology. Below are some of our previous Korean Kontext interviews with Korean American Day honorees.


Korean American Day 2016: Chef Edward Lee

Korean American Day 2015: Olympic Skier Toby Dawson

Actor Daniel Dae Kim


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U.S. Forces Korea: The Big Move to Camp Humphreys

January 12th, 2017

USFK.jpgIn 2017, U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) will complete the move of thousands of troops and support staff from Yongsan Garrison in Seoul to Camp Humphries, 50 miles south of the capital city. This project has taken over a decade to complete, partially because it involved building and rennovating infrastructure for the thousands of troops and their families that will be moving there.


Korean Kontext host Jenna Gibson sat down with Major General James Walton, Director for Transformation and Restationing, who has headed up this relocation project since 2014. They discuss the background of the move and its progress, as well as the future for the land in Yongsan that will be vacated by USFK.

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2017 on the Korean Peninsula

January 6th, 2017

2017_Blog_Image_Taller.jpgFor the first Korean Kontext podcast of 2017, five members of the KEI staff sat down with host Jenna Gibson for a chat about the volitility of 2016 and what it could mean for the year ahead. They discuss the surprising election of Donald Trump and how his administration is shaping their policy toward Korea, what the political turmoil in Seoul could mean for U.S.-Korea relations, and even how Korean culture will continue to gain popularity.


For more insights and predictions, check out the two blogs that accompany this discussion: The Year of the Unexpected: A Look Back At the Korean Peninsula in 2016 and 10 Issues to Watch for on the Korean Peninsula in 2017.

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Will UN Sanctions Finally Stop North Korea?

December 16th, 2016

15313774700_d76d6a0e9c_k.jpgThe last several rounds of UN sanctions against the DPRK have been called the "strongest ever," and the new sanctions passed on November 30 are no different. There are some new provisions, such as a specific cap on coal exports and a strengthened ability to deter other countries from cooperating with the North on illicit activities. But are these sanctions finally enough to change North Korea's calculus and get them back to the negotiating table?


Here to talk about this is renouned North Korea expert Dr. Stephan Haggard. He sat down with KEI senior director Troy Stangarone after the new sanctions were passed to discuss how they are different, and what affect they may have on the North Korean regime.


Image from blake.thornberry's photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

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How to Write About North Korea

December 6th, 2016


Many of the news stories about North Korea that make their way into the Western media fall into one of two categories: 1) breaking news about provocations and the nuclear crisis or 2) look at the crazy thing Kim Jong Un did today. As a journalist who covered the DPRK from both Seoul and Pyongyang, Jean Lee is working to get past the caricatures that often make their way into how we see North Koreans. 


Jean, who is now a Global Fellow at the Wilson Center, is here in DC for an event she organized about this very topic. The seminar features journalists, novelists and historians who all face unique challenges in gathering information and writing about the DPRK. She agreed to sit down with us while here in town to give us a preview of the roundtable, which will take place on December 7 at the Wilson Center.


To hear more from Jean and learn about her work covering North Korea, you can follow her on Twitter and Instagram with the handle @newsjean.

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Tracking Korea’s Transportation System with Kojects

December 2nd, 2016

5188224481_f7df423d64_b.jpgFor many people who visit Korea for the first time, one of the things that stands out the most is the country's clean, reliable, and efficient public transportation. This was the case for Andy Tebay when he moved to Korea from New Zealand. The system inspired him to begin researching and writing about transportation and urban planning in Seoul and around the country.


Started as Andy's personal blog, Kojects has since grown into a hub for information for English-speakers to get information about Korea's many transportation options as well as news about new projects and improvements. Along with co-author Nikola Medimorec, Kojects aims to help anyone visiting or living in Korea get where they need to go.


Image from Keith Lee's photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

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Addressing Inequality and Inefficiency in the Korean Labor Market

November 17th, 2016

South Korea faces rising social inequality, low and stagnating productivity, and unsustainable demographic changes, all of which threaten long-term economic growth prospects as well as social stability. This week's guest is an expert in some of the structural problems that are holding the Korean labor market back and allowing inequality to grow.

Dr. Vladimir Hlasny of Ewha Womans University discusses his new paper on this topic, which was written for KEI as part of our Academic Paper Series. He discusses some of the pitfalls in the way Korean companies look for employees, the problematic ways job-seekers build skills and market themselves, and much more.

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President Donald Trump and His Impact on Korea

November 10th, 2016

Manzullo.jpgMore than 100 million Americans cast their ballots on November 8, and we have a new president-elect. The Trump victory came as a surprise to most, with polls and pundits alike predicting a Clinton sweep. In Seoul and across Asia, people are watching the Trump team closely, looking for signs of what's to come for American foreign policy.


In this episode of Korean Kontext, we sit down with KEI President Donald Manzullo. President Manzullo is no stranger to elections, having been elected to the U.S. House of Representatives for 20 years. He shares his insights on the election and the sentiments of the American people that drove Trump to victory. And he digs into what this new administration could mean for the US-Korea relationship and American policy toward North Korea.

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[Rebroadcast] Escaping North Korea - Mike Kim

October 28th, 2016


In this episode, which originally aired in 2011, we hear from author Mike Kim, who speaks with Korean Kontext about his experiences living and working with North Korean refugees on the China-North Korea border. Mike shares with us what prompted him to leave everything behind and move to China, what it was like to work directly with North Korean escapees, and what more must be done to help them.

Since his time in China, Mike has published a book, "Escaping North Korea", which he is currently working on turning into a full-length film.

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A Primer on Samsung’s Galaxy Note 7 Crisis

October 21st, 2016


Samsung's Galaxy Note 7 woes have hit a crescendo in recent weeks, with the company officially halting production and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officially banning the devices from all U.S. flights.
In this week's episode of Korean Kontext, we dig into this issue and its potential long-term impact on both Samsung and the South Korean economy at large. Our guests this week are KEI experts Troy Stangarone and Kyle Ferrier, senior director for congressional affairs and trade and director for academic affairs and research, respectively. They discuss the crisis, Samsung's response, and what it might mean for chaebols going forward.
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A Look into Korean Literature

October 14th, 2016


This spring, Han Kang became the first Korean author to win the prestigious Man Booker International Prize for her novel, "The Vegetarian." And, for the first time in the prize's history, the award was shared by the novel's translator, Deborah Smith.

While this award has brought attention to Korean literature around the world, Korean authors are still relatively unknown outside of the peninsula. What is behind this phenomenon? What are some of the challenges of translating Korean into other languages? And what can be done to boost the popularity of Korean literature around the world?

To answer these and other interesting questions, we are joined this week by Dr. Susan Hwang, assistant professor of contemporary Korean literature and culture studies at Indiana University.

Image from Sam Bae's photostream on flickr Creative Commons.
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Flooding in North Korea: Humanitarian and Human Rights Concerns

October 7th, 2016


North Korea recently experienced one of the worst natural disasters in its history, as flood waters swept through towns in the northeast part of the country. Up to 600,000 people could be affected, and aid is sorely needed. But the situation is complicated by the fact that the regime in Pyongyang continues to divert its funds toward its nuclear and weapons programs.

In this episode, Korean Kontext host Jenna Gibson talks with Greg Scarlatoiu, executive director of the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, who has been following this issue closely. They discuss the extent of the crisis, the balance between providing humanitarian assistance and taking a tough stance on security concerns, and much more.
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Middlebury Says Annyeonghaseyo to its School of Korean

October 1st, 2016


Middlebury College, famous for its immersive language programs, added Korean as its 11th language in 2015. Now, after two summers, the School of Korean is helping students from a variety of background improve their Korean abilities.

For this week's episode, Korean Kontext host Jenna Gibson sits down with Dr. Sahie Kang, director of Middlebury's School of Korean. They talk about the school's establishment, the type of students who choose to study Korean, how to increase the popularity of Korean language learning in the United States, and more. 

Image from Jung Yoon's photostream on flickr Creative Commons.
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A Look at the Peninsula from the Next Generation of Korea Scholars

September 23rd, 2016


With the goal of supporting the next generation of scholars interested in Korea and Northeast Asia, the U.S.-Korea Next Gen Scholars Program brings together young professionals from various backgrounds to work together and shape the future of Korean studies in the United States. The program, sponsored by CSIS Korea Chair and USC Dornsife Korean Studies Institute, chose 10 scholars this year.

In this episode, we are joined by two Next Gen participants - Dr. Sheena Greitens and Dr. Lauren Richardson. Dr. Greitens is an assistant professor at the University of Missouri, and Dr. Richardson is a teaching fellow at the University of Edinburgh. They both join Korean Kontext host Jenna Gibson to discuss some of the pressing issues on the peninsula today -- including North Korea's recent nuclear test -- as well as their thoughts about the future of Korean studies.
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Economic Cooperation Between South Korea, Japan and the United States

September 13th, 2016


When you hear about trilateral cooperation between the United States, South Korea and Japan in the news, people are usually talking about how these three countries can work together to counter the security threat posed by North Korea. But there is also a lot these three countries are doing to cooperate in the economic realm.

This week's guest is Shihoko Goto, senior Northeast Asia associate at the Woodrow Wilson Center's Asia Program, who spent more than 10 years as a journalist covering economics and Asian markets. She sits down with Korean Kontext host Jenna Gibson to discuss what the three countries have been doing to improve economic relations, and what opportunities they can seize in the future.
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[Rebroadcast] Korea’s English-Language Media: A Discussion with the President of Arirang TV

September 1st, 2016


In this episode, Korean Kontext speaks with Ms. Jie-ae Sohn, President of Arirang TV & Radio, Korea's first English language international broadcast system. Ms. Sohn worked as the former CNN Bureau Chief for Seoul and Head Correspondent for South Korea. She was also the spokeswoman for the Seoul G-20 Summit in November 2010. During the interview, Ms. Sohn spoke about modern Korean culture, K-culture, the role of women in South Korea, her experiences as a journalist, and more.
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High-Level Defections and the North Korean Regime

August 26th, 2016


Last week, the news of a high-level defection by a North Korean diplomat stationed in London captivated North Korea watchers. For the next few says, analysts and the media speculated about Thae Yong-Ho, his motivations for defecting and what this news will mean for Pyongyang.

Here to talk about this and other high-profile defections is Keith Luse, executive director of the National Committee on North Korea. Luse discusses what we know and don't know about defections, and why it's so difficult to speculate about North Korea.
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Shamans, Goblins, and Ghosts: A Look at Korean Folk Culture

August 19th, 2016


Ghosts and goblins are everywhere in Korean folktales, causing havoc for people through their antics. Equally common are the shamans who act as intermediaries, helping offer solutions to life's supernatural problems.

For this week's episode of Korean Kontext, host Jenna Gibson interviewed Dr. Michael Pettid, of the State University of New York at Binghamton, who specializes in pre-modern Korea, particularly the role shamanism and folk culture has played in Korea. They discuss the history and experience of Korean shamans over the centuries, how they fit into folk tales, and what to do when a hobgoblin tries to steal your shoes. 

Photo from Woohae Cho's photostream on flickr Creative Commons.
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Marriage Migrants and Multicultural Families in South Korea

August 11th, 2016


For many years, South Korea has been a homogeneous country. But with more foreigners coming to live in Korea, that is starting to change. In fact, the Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs estimates that the number of multicultural families in Korea could reach nearly 750,000 by 2020. 

This week's guest is Dr. Daisy Kim, who studies these multicultural families, with a particular focus on marriage migrants - women who move to Korea to marry a Korean man. We discuss some of the particular issues these women and their families face, what the Korean government has done to support them, and much more.
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The Battle over THAAD

August 5th, 2016


In early July, the United States and South Korea announced that they had come to an agreement to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system near the city of Seongju. This announcement sparked a wave of protest both from local groups in South Korea and from countries like North Korea and China.

Our guests this week are KEI experts Troy Stangarone and Mark Tokola. They sit down with Korean Kontext host Jenna Gibson to discuss the THAAD system itself, the decision to deploy it, and the negative responses to that decision. 
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Election 2016: Party Politics and Their Implications for Korea

July 28th, 2016


With Election 2016 well underway, KEI's very own Phil Eskeland has been closely following how both the Republican and Democratic parties have been talking about foreign policy and Asia. He sits down with Korean Kontext host Jenna Gibson to share his insights from nearly 30 years working in government, including 25 years as a staffer on the Hill.

Phil and Jenna talk about the Republican and Democratic National Conventions, party unity, the two vice presidential picks, and how all this could impact Korea and Asia more broadly.
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Korean Diaspora in Central Asia

July 22nd, 2016


In the late 1930s, nearly 200,000 ethnic Koreans were forcibly removed from the Soviet Far East, packed into trains and sent to Central Asia. More than 70 years later, their descendants still live in the former Soviet Union, most of them in what is now Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan.

Victoria Kim grew up in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, knowing that her grandfather was Korean. But it wasn't until much later that she began looking into what that meant - how her grandfather and other Central Asian Koreans arrived in Uzbekistan and made their lives there. This story became a multimedia project called "Lost and Found in Uzbekistan: The Korean Story."

In this week's episode, we talk with Victoria about the experience of Central Asian Koreans in the 1930s until today, how her project delved into these stories, and much more.

To view Victoria's project, please click here.
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South Korea’s Outreach to the Middle East

July 15th, 2016


From nuclear power in the United Arab Emirates to new free trade agreement negotiations opening with Israel, to South Korean President Park Geun Hye's visit to Iran, 2016 seems to be a year of increased Korean outreach to the Middle East.

Here to talk about this phenomenon and offer some insight into the best ways for Korea to continue reaching out to the Middle East is Dr. Alon Levkowitz. Dr. Levkowitz is a Lecturer  and Coordinator of the Asian Studies Program Bar-Ilan University in Tel Aviv, Israel. He is an expert in Korea and Northeast Asia's connections with the Middle East. He sits down with Korean Kontext host Jenna Gibson to present the findings of his recent KEI paper, "The Middle East Reopens for Business but with Old and New Hazards for South Korea."
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[Rebroadcast] UK Ambassador to North Korea John Everard

July 7th, 2016

With no shortage of North Korean news in 2016, we look back at one of our interviews with Ambassador John Everard of the UK. He provides an inside perspective of North Korea from his time living in Pyongyang.

From the original broadcast:

In this episode we speak with Ambassador John Everard, who served as Ambassador of Great Britain to North Korea from 2006-2008. Ambassador Everard experienced firsthand life as one of only a handful of foreign diplomats posted in Pyongyang, and draws from his experience to share anecdotes and insights into a way of life and a system of governance that is largely obscured from public view.

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Can Sanctions Force Change in North Korea?

July 1st, 2016


After North Korea launched its fourth nuclear test in January 2016, an outraged international community once again cracked down, passing tough sanctions both at the UN and domestic levels. While early signs seem to indicate that these sanctions are putting a dent in North Korea's trade with other countries, it remains to be seen whether they will have a real impact on the DPRK's policies.

This week's guest is skeptical about the ability of sanctions to push real change in a targeted country. Dr. Dursun Peksen, Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Memphis, has studied sanctions around the world for years, and his new paper for KEI suggests that sanctions against North Korea may be less effective than we hope.
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Korean Aid and Cooperation with the African Development Bank

June 27th, 2016


In May 2016, Park Geun Hye became the first South Korean president to visit the African Union headquarters in Ethiopia. This trip, which also included stops in Uganda and Kenya, has been hailed as part of a growing Korean interest in Africa, particularly when it comes to development aid.

To discuss this trend is this week's guest, Valerie Dabady Liverani. She has worked at the African Development Bank (AfDB) since 1998, and now serves as the manager of their Resource Mobilization and External Finance Department. 

In this episode, Dabady Liverani talks about Korea's work with the AfDB, some areas where more resources are needed, and possible overlap between Korea's cultural promotion and aid projects.

Photo from Korea.net's photostream on flickr Creative Commons.
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Korea’s Economic Outlook: A View from the OECD

June 16th, 2016


This week, we have a very special guest who flew in from Paris to talk about Korea's economy. Dr. Randall Jones is head of the Japan/Korea Desk at the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD), and has studied the Korean economy extensively for the OECD's new economic survey of Korea.

In this episode, KEI senior director Troy Stangarone spoke with Jones about the report, including Korea's recent economic performance and future outlook. They also discussed some of Jones' recommendations to help Korea increase its growth moving forward.
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Seoul Mate: A Reflection on Five Years in Korea

June 10th, 2016


As Seoul has grown, it has become more and more international. The city has been making an effort to attract more foreign visitors, whether as tourists, students or workers. This week, we sit down with one of those visitors, who called Seoul home for more than five years.

Ross Tokola first visited Korea in 2009 when his father, KEI Vice President Mark Tokola, was deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Seoul. He returned in 2011 and stayed, working for the Asan Institute for Policy Studies and spending time learning Korean at Sogang University.

In this week's episode, we chat with Ross about his experience living and working in Seoul, how the city has changed since he first moved there, and more.
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Myanmar Between the Two Koreas

June 3rd, 2016


Over the last 50 years, Myanmar has oscillated between periods of friendship with South Korea and partnership with North Korea. As Myanmar opens to the international community, however, investment and aid from South Korea seem to be cementing its loyalty to Seoul. 

How has Myanmar interacted with the two Koreas in the past, and could they swing back toward Pyongyang in the coming years? In this episode, we talk with Myanmar expert Dr. David Steinberg to flesh out Myanmar's tangled relationship with the two halves of the Korean Peninsula. As a government official, researcher and academic, Dr. Steinberg has decades of experience following Myanmar's many political and economic transitions. This week, he brings that expertise to Korean Kontext.
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Combatting Yellow Dust and Air Pollution

May 29th, 2016


Anyone who has spent time in Korea knows the term Yellow Dust. Sand from Mongolia sweeps across China, picking up pollutants and carrying them across borders. Every spring, Koreans bring out their facemasks and lament China's lax environmental standards. But according to this week's guest, the "Blame China" narrative is an oversimplification of the problem.

Our guest for this episode is Dr. Matthew Shapiro, associate professor at the Illinois Institute of Technology. He recently wrote a paper for KEI on Asia's air pollution problem, including how Korean industry investment in China may be partly to blame. 
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Deciphering China’s Security Intentions: A Japanese Perspective

May 20th, 2016


This week, we delve into how Japan views the security threat from China, and how these perceptions shape Japanese policy. For this, we turn to security expert Dr. Narushige Michishita.

Dr. Michishita is a professor at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies (GRIPS) in Tokyo and is currently a Japan scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, DC. KEI recently commissioned a paper from him for our Academic Symposium program. The paper looked into how different sectors in Japan view the Chinese security threat, including politicians, the defense ministry, and the media.

In this episode, we discuss his findings and Japan's view toward Chinese security intentions more broadly. We also discuss some of his other research on security and strategy in Northeast Asia.
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Reform or Status Quo? An Analysis of North Korea’s Party Congress

May 10th, 2016


Last week, North Korea launched its Seventh Worker's Party Congress, a major meeting of regime leaders that has not been convened in 36 years. Although analysts had high expectations for the meeting, there were few major announcements out of Pyongyang. What significance did the meeting have? What changes does it signal for the DPRK in the future?

To answer some of these questions, this week Korean Kontext host Jenna Gibson sits down with Bruce Klingner, senior research fellow for Northeast Asia at the Heritage Foundation. They discuss some of the announcements that Kim Jong Un made at the Congress, some of the expected moves that he chose not to make, and why he may have chosen to wear that infamous striped suit.
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A Russian Perspective on Northeast Asia

May 7th, 2016


In this episode, we take a step back from the Korean Peninsula and take a look at Northeast Asia from the perspective of one of its neighbors - Russia. In recent years, Russia has been pursuing a "Turn East" policy, hoping to get more involved in China and on both sides of the Korean Peninsula. But so far these attempts have had mixed success.

Our guest this week is Alexander Gabuev, chair of the Russia in the Asia-Pacific Program at the Carnegie Moscow Center. We discuss Russia's view towards China, its Turn to the East policy, and the role that Russia is trying to play in solving the North Korea issue.
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South Korea and Iran’s Partnership Potential

April 29th, 2016


On May 1, South Korean President Park Geun-hye will travel to Tehran, Iran for a summit meeting with her counterpart, President Hassan Rouhani. This visit will be the first time a South Korean and Iranian president have met for a bilateral summit since the two countries established diplomatic relations in 1962.

Our guest this week is Alex Vatanka, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute who specializes in Iranian foreign and domestic policy. We discuss this historic event from the Iranian perspective, including what the meeting could mean for the two countries on both a practical and a symbolic level.

For more information on South Korea's ties with Iran, check out KEI's new blog post on the subject.
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South Korea’s Role in the Chang Mai Initiative and Regional Economic Integration

April 21st, 2016


In 2010, a group of Asian countries made major strides toward economic integration with the launch of the Chang Mai Initiative Multilateralization. This currency swap arrangement has had a major impact on economic cooperation and stability for the member countries.

This week, guest host Kyle Ferrier, KEI's director of academic affairs and research, sits down with Dr. Kaewkamol (Karen) Pitakdumrongkit. Dr. Pitakdumrongkit, who is an assistant professor at S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, examines the initiative from its origins to recent changes, and explores the role South Korea played as a mediator in the creation of this landmark agreement.
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[Rebroadcast] Steven Yeun: The Walking Dead

April 14th, 2016


With the recent season finale of The Walking Dead and the broadcast of his visit to South Korea with talk show host Conan O'Brien this past weekend, we look back at our interview with Korean-American actor Steven Yeun.

From the original broadcast:

In this episode, Korean Kontext spoke to Korean-American actor Steven Yeun.  Having acted in several high profile TV shows, Yeun's interest in acting originated during his freshman year at Kalamazoo College after watching improv group "Monkapult".  Originally studying Psychology at Kalamazoo, Yeun's parents gave him two years to try acting and it didn't take long for him to win his first roles.  Fast-forward to 2010 and Yeun was cast as Glenn in the hugely popular The Walking Dead, a character that put him on millions of TV screens worldwide.Korean Kontext caught up with Steven over Skype for a chat about his career as a Korean American actor, current role in The Walking Dead, and future career aspirations.  Tune in for a fascinating conversation with Steven Yeun of The Walking Dead.
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A Look at the North Korean Economy with Dr. Stephan Haggard

April 8th, 2016


This week our guest is noted scholar and North Korea watcher Dr. Stephan Haggard. Dr. Haggard is a Professor of Korea-Pacific Studies and director of the Korea-Pacific Program at the School of Global Policy and Strategy at the University of California San Diego. He also co-authors the popular "North Korea: Witness to Transformation" blog at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.

As an expert on North Korea and the North Korean economic situation, we were eager to talk with Dr. Haggard about a range of issues, including the rise of the black market economy, the economic effect of new sanctions, and even the possibility that Kim Jong Un will institute a new tax system in the DPRK.

Dr. Haggard was recently here at KEI moderating a panel on this topic with researchers from China, Russia, and the United States. The video of the discussion can be found here.
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Overlap and Divergence in American and European Approaches to the Korean Peninsula

March 30th, 2016


At KEI, we mainly focus on the relationship between the United States and South Korea, and their approaches toward North Korea. This week, we're taking a different look at the Peninsula - through the European perspective. While the United States and Europe share a lot of common goals and policies toward both sides of the DMZ, there are some distinct differences in the way they approach Korea. And within Europe there are also a range of policies and approaches.

This week, we connect with Dr. John Nilsson-Wright, head of the Asia Program at Chatham House and an official fellow of Darwin College at Cambridge University. We discuss some of the similarities and differences in how our friends across the pond view and interact with North and South Korea.
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Could North Korean nuclear tests trigger an eruption of Mt. Baekdu?

March 17th, 2016


For understandable reasons, the international community has been focused on North Korea's nuclear program, concerned that Pyongyang could have a weapon capable of such massive destruction. But should they also be concerned about possible side effects from the nuclear tests themselves?
Our guest this week is Dr. Eunseo Choi, an assistant professor at the University of Memphis' Center for Earthquake Research and Information. Dr. Choi was part of a team of scientists who recently published an article about the chance that North Korea's continued nuclear testing could trigger an eruption of Mt. Baekdu, an enormously powerful volcano on the border of the DPRK and China.

Photo from Neil Young's photostream on flickr Creative Commons.
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