South Korea and Iran’s Partnership Potential

April 29th, 2016

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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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Follow the Money: The Cat and Mouse Game to Cut off North Korea’s Nuclear Program

March 11th, 2016

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Last week, we looked at the details of the new US and UN sanctions against North Korea, delving into the new measures to get at Pyeongyang's funding. But will they actually work?

To get at this issue, Korean Kontext host Jenna Gibson spoke with Dr. John Park, adjunct lecturer at Harvard and afaculty affiliate with the Project on Managing the Atom at the Harvard Kennedy School's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. They discussed North Korea's recent provocations, how the international community has responded, and what North Korea has been doing to get around targeted sanctions.

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New US, UN Sanctions Up Pressure on North Korea

March 4th, 2016

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On February 18, President Barack Obama signed into law a new round of sanctions designed to further squeeze the North Korean regime. On March 3, the United Nations Security Council followed suit, passing what many are calling the toughest sanctions in 20 years.

Experts Bill Newcomb and Daniel Wertz join host Jenna Gibson to go through the details of these new measures. What makes them so tough? Will they compliment each other or will there be points of contention? Will they actually push the DPRK to change? 
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Justice Michael Kirby and the UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in North Korea

February 25th, 2016

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Human rights in North Korea remains a divisive issue between the international community and North Korea. In 2013, the United Nations Human Rights Council established Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to investigate human rights violations in North Korea.

In this episode, host Jenna Gibson sits down with Justice Michael Kirby, who was appointed to head the Commission of Inquiry and a former Justice of the High Court of Australia. They discuss the Commission of Inquiry and of the current state of human rights in North Korea.

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A Conversation with TV Host and Chef Marja Vongerichten

February 18th, 2016

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When Marja Vongerichten was 19, she met her birth mother for the first time since being adopted at age three. The first thing they bonded over, Marja says, was food. 

In this episode, we sit down with Marja, who is the host of the popular PBS show Kimchi Chronicles and author of a book by the same name. We discuss her background, how her love of food began, how that reconnection with her birth mother inspired her cooking, and much more.

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Korean American Day 2016: Chef Edward Lee

February 12th, 2016

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Born in Brooklyn, Chef Edward Lee always loved cooking. And after graduating from college with an English literature degree, he returned to that love and became an award-winning chef. Not only does he own successful restaurants in Kentucky and Maryland, he has also been on several major TV shows including Iron Chef America, Top Chef and Mind of a Chef.

In this episode, host Jenna Gibson sits down with Chef Lee to discuss his background, his move to the South, and his opinions on the use of the word "fusion."
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North Korea’s Abduction Project

February 6th, 2016

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In the decades following the Korean War, North Korea initiated a top-secret project to kidnap ordinary people from Japan, reeducate them, and turn them into international spies for the regime. In the late 1970s, dozens of Japanese disappeared without a trace from beaches, schools and sidewalks.
In this episode, we feature Robert Boynton, author of the fascinating new book "The Invitation-Only Zone: The True Story of North Korea's Abduction Project." Boynton spent years investigating the abduction project, interviewing the few abductees who were able to return to their homeland, and painting a picture of their lives in the North, where many were held prisoner for decades.
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Korean American Day 2016: Chef Rachel Yang

January 28th, 2016

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Every year on January 13, the Korea Economic Institute of America (KEI) sponsors a luncheon in Washington, DC to mark Korean American Day and recognize the local and national Korean American community. As part of the ceremony, KEI recognizes prominent Korean Americans that have made significant contributions in their field. This year, we recognized leaders in the culinary arts, including today's guest.

Chef Rachel Yang is co-owner of three restaurants in the Seattle area: Joule, Revel and Trove. Born in Seoul, she moved to the United States as a teenager, and tries to marry these two cultures in her cooking. In this episode, we discuss Chef Yang's background, her creative process, and how her husband won her over by making kimchi.

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[Rebroadcast] The Cleanest Race: An Interview with Author B.R. Myers

January 22nd, 2016


With Washington DC stuck in a snowstorm, please enjoy this episode of Korean Kontext originally published in 2012.


brmyers.jpgB.R. Myers is the author of “The Cleanest Race” and regular contributor to the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and The Atlantic


From his book “The Cleanest Race”, Myers stands out from the rest for arguing that North Korea's political system is based neither on Communism or Stalinism and that attempts to understand North Korea as aConfucian patriarchy operating within a Cold War framework are misguided.  His views have received mixed opinions from the think-tank orthodoxy.  While some regard his outlook as a fresh approach to the topic, others have rebutted his interpretation of North Korea as a national socialist country and continue to view it through the lens of cold war politics.

Join us for a fascinating interview with Myers about his feelings on the North Korea watcher community’s reception to his work, his feelings of North Korea's current situation and about the future of North-South relations.
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Look Back, Look Forward: Predictions for the Korean Peninsula

January 15th, 2016

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Every January, KEI publishes its predictions for the 10 issues to watch for on the Korean Peninsula in the coming year. Then, in December, we revisit our predictions to see how we did.

In this episode of Korean Kontext, KEI Senior Director Troy Stangarone discusses what we got right in 2015 - and what we completely missed. He also highlights some of the predictions for 2016.

Please view KEI's 2015 review here, and our 2016 predictions here.
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North Korea’s House of Cards: Understanding the Kim Jong Un Regime

January 8th, 2016

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North Korea watchers have been trying for years to understand the inner workings of the reclusive regime. With the country launching its 4th nuclear test this week, recognizing the structure and motivations of the DPRK leadership is more important than ever.

In this episode, which was recorded prior to the nuclear test, host Jenna Gibson sits down with Ken Gause, director of the International Affairs group at CNA and author of the new book "North Korean House of Cards: Leadership Dynamics Under Kim Jong-un." They discuss Ken's research into the regime, his analysis of recent purges including the execution of Jang Song-thaek, and what to watch out for in the coming months as Kim Jong Un continues to consolidate his power.
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Korean American Day 2015: NHL Star Jim Paek

December 28th, 2015

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Every year on January 13, the Korea Economic Institute of America (KEI) sponsors a luncheon in Washington, DC to mark Korean American Day and recognize the local and national Korean American community. In 2015, KEI honored Korean Americans leaders in sports. One of the honorees was Jim Paek, two-time Stanley Cup winner who was the first person of Korean descent to play for the NHL.

In this episode, KEI senior director Troy Stangarone sits down with Jim to talk about getting into hockey as a child, what it was like to play for the Pittsburgh Penguins, and how he has made the move from player to coach.
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Korean American Day 2015: Olympic Skier Toby Dawson

December 17th, 2015

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Every year on January 13, the Korea Economic Institute of America (KEI) sponsors a luncheon in Washington, DC to mark Korean American Day and recognize the local and national Korean American community. In 2015, KEI honored Korean Americans leaders in sports. One of the honorees was Toby Dawson, Olympic bronze medalist and now coach of the South Korean national freestyle ski team. 


In this episode, KEI senior director Troy Stangarone sits down with Toby to talk about how he got his start in skiing, what it was like to compete in the Olympics, how he dealt with the transition from athlete to coach, and much more.


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Examining the Korean Economy

December 11th, 2015

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In 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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Talk to Us in Korean: The Mavericks of Teaching Korean Online

December 2nd, 2015

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It started in 2009 with a few audio lessons. Within just six years, Talk to Me in Korean has grown into a huge hit, with millions of listeners from all over the world visiting the site to improve their Korean language skills. The organization has now expanded to include video lessons, textbooks, and even a coffee shop.

In this episode of Korean Kontext, host Jenna Gibson connects with TTMIK founder Hyunwoo Sun to discuss how how he got the idea for the site, how they have dealt with its popularity, and his thoughts on teaching Korean culture along with teaching language.

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The Kim Monarchy: Reframing Political Legitimacy in North Korea

November 20th, 2015

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Since 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 new 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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From K-pop to Kimchi: The Korean Cultural Center Brings Hallyu to DC

November 5th, 2015

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With the Korean Wave crashing all over the world, more and more people are getting swept up in Korean pop culture. Through taekwondo classes, movie screenings and even art exhibitions, the Korean Cultural Center in Washington, DC is working to deepen the conversation and expose fans to more aspects of the Hallyu phenomenon.

In this episode of Korean Kontext, host Jenna Gibson sits down with Adam Wojciechowicz, a public affairs specialist at the KCC, to discuss the center's public outreach, how perceptions of Korea have changed over the years, the growing popularity of Korean food in the United States, and more.

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A Tale of Courage from the “Forgotten War”

October 28th, 2015

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On a frozen day in December, 1950, as the Korean War raged below him, Jesse Brown crash landed on a North Korean mountainside. A few minutes later, Tom Hudner followed suit, deliberately slamming his aircraft into the mountain in an effort to rescue his friend from behind enemy lines.


This heroic story is the subject of Devotion, a new book by bestselling author Adam Makos. In this episode, guest host Nicholas Hamisevicz sits down with Adam to discuss this incredible story, how he chose to tell it in his book, and the trip Adam took with Tom Hudner in 2013 back to North Korea to fulfill the promise he had made to bring his friend home.

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The Human Rights of Korean Family Reunions

October 20th, 2015

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Starting on October 20, 2015, a group of South Koreans will have the chance to cross the DMZ to meet with brothers, sisters, nephews, nieces, and other family members that they have not seen in 65 years. For this round of meetings, more than 65,000 South Koreans were eligible, but only 100 were chosen by lottery to participate. Many of them are in their 80s and 90s.


In this episode, Korean Kontext host Jenna Gibson sits down with Greg Scarlatoiu, executive director executive director of The Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK), to discuss this round of family reunions in the larger context of North Korean human rights. They also discuss the growing urgency to reunite families, the politicization of these meetings, and much more.


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Presidential Summits: A Diplomat’s Perspective

October 14th, 2015

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On October 16, 2015, President Park Geun Hye and President Barack Obama will hold a summit meeting, where they are expected to address a range of issues concerning South Korea and the United States. Everyone will see the final product - the handshake, the press release, the speech - but what went on behind the scenes to make this meeting happen?

In this episode, Korean Kontext's Jenna Gibson sits down with KEI Vice President Mark Tokola, a 38-year veteran of the U.S. Foreign Service, to discuss his experience with summit meetings and what to look out for when these two presidents meet this weekend.
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Friends of Korea: Witnessing Korea’s Transformation

October 9th, 2015

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From 1966 to 1981, around 2,000 Peace Corps volunteers lived and worked in South Korea. After returning to the United States, many volunteers wanted a way to share their Korean experience. So, in the 1990s, they formed Friends of Korea (FOK), an organization dedicated to fostering cultural awareness and friendship between Americans and Koreans. FOK has since grown to include anyone interested in learning more about Korea and promoting ties between Korea and the United States.

In this episode, KEI's Jenna Gibson sits down with Nancy Kelly, president of FOK, and David Lassiter, a member of the Board of Directors. They discuss Nancy and David's Peace Corps experience and their work with Friends of Korea, including a new DVD they have produced on Korea's economic transformation over the past 60 years.

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Setting an Example: The German Case as a Model for Korean Reunification

September 29th, 2015

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October 3, 2015 will mark 25 years since the official reunification of East and West Germany after decades of separation. Meanwhile, the Korean Peninsula remains divided. South Korean President Park Geun-Hye has referenced Germany many times as an inspiration for the "unification bonanza" she hopes to foster while in office.

Can the German model provide some guidance for Korean unification? What can South Korea do now to prepare? What about the role of the North Korean regime in a unified Korea? Jenna Gibson sits down with KEI's Troy Stangarone to discuss these questions and much more.
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20 Years Combatting Tuberculosis in North Korea

September 18th, 2015

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The Eugene Bell Foundation has been working in the DPRK for 20 years. Now the focus on multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB), a deadly disease that is incredibly expensive and time-consuming to treat. 
KEI's Jenna Gibson sits down with the founder and chairman of Eugene Bell, Dr. Stephen Linton, to discuss the work that the foundation has been doing to provide care to the North Korean people. They also discuss the obstacles the organization has faced so far and the long road ahead.
 
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Prospects for “Vitalizing” NGO Work in North Korea

September 10th, 2015

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In the recent agreement between Seoul and Pyeongyang to defuse tensions along the DMZ, the two governments included a promise to "vitalize" non-governmental organization (NGO) exchanges in various fields. 

KEI's Jenna Gibson sits down with Keith Luse, the executive director of the National Committee on North Korea, to get his perspective on this agreement and the potential for greater cooperation between the North and the South. They also discuss current NGO work within the DPRK and some of the challenges that aid workers face working in-country.
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Seismology and Mt. Baekdu: Science Diplomacy in North Korea

September 3rd, 2015

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Volcanologist Dr. Kayla Iacovino traveled to North Korea in 2013 as part of a team that was collaborating with North Korean scientists to study Mt. Baekdu, one of Korea's most important historical and cultural places and the site of a huge eruption one thousand years ago. Dr. Iacovino sat down with KEI's Nicholas Hamisevicz to discuss her trip, the science behind the big eruption, and opportunities for science diplomacy.

Photo courtesy of  bumix2000's photostream on flickr Creative Commons.
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Looking Back on Four Years of U.S.-Korea Relations

August 20th, 2015

NickPicSmall.jpgNicholas Hamisevicz has been KEI's director of research and academic affairs for four years. Now, he is leaving KEI to pursue his Ph.D at Catholic University. 


But before he goes, he sits down with KEI's Jenna Gibson to discuss some of the major trends in U.S.-Korea relations that have emerged over his time working for KEI, as well as some of his predictions for the future of the partnership and the region.
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Chinese PLA Media Commentaries on North Korea: Going Rogue or Staying on Script?

August 12th, 2015

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Within China, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is a principle stakeholder in Beijing’s policy decision-making. In recent years, PLA officials have penned some of the more interesting, and forceful, articles in the media, which in turn has fueled speculation from Western analysts about a potential shift in China’s approach to the North.
Does Chinese military commentary represent accurate and authoritative views on policy toward North Korea? Are there certain military officials or publications that we should watch closely? Do these commentaries by Chinese military officials actually influence China’s policy toward North Korea?

Researcher Nathan Beauchamp-Mustafaga sits down with KEI’s Nicholas Hamisevicz to discuss his analysis of these media commentaries. 

Please click here to read his recent KEI APS paper on these PLA media appearances and click here to view the July 22, 2015 program.


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Making Sense of North Korea’s Re-Defector Press Conferences

July 31st, 2015

Over the past few years, North Korea has been holding press conferences starring so-called re-defectors – people who fled to the South and chose to return. Steven Denney and Christopher Green sit down with KEI’s Nicholas Hamisevicz to discuss their analysis of these press conferences and their place in North Korea’s information management strategy.

Please click here to read their recent KEI APS paper on these re-defector press conferences and to view the March 12, 2015 program.

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Behind the Scenes of South Korea’s Space Program

September 16th, 2014

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With the recent retirement by Yi So-yeon, South Korea's remaining astronaut, many have turned attention to Korea, wondering whether there is a future for its space program. According to Daniel Pinkston of the International Crisis GroupSouth Korea's space program is a necessary and integral part of President Park Geun-hye's future economic policies. Furthermore, it can and is being used used to enhance its relations with its allies. Challenges that do arise include how its space program affects the security situation in the region and whether enough data is being shared between countries to properly manage peaceful exploration and usage of space.

Please click here to read his recent KEI APS paper on South Korea's space program and to view the September 10, 2014 program.
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The Humanitarian Situation in North Korea

September 2nd, 2014

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Since the famine of the 1990s, North Korea has continued to face periods of chronic food shortages. However, the humanitarian needs of the people in North Korea extend beyond the adequate provision of food. 

Jérome Sauvage, the Deputy Director of the United Nations Development Program’s Representation Office in Washington, DC and served the UN Coordinator in the DPRK , discusses life in North Korea and the humanitarian challenges the population faces from a lack of food, potable water, electricity, and a collapsed healthcare system.
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Overhauling a Nation: A Discussion on Economic Reforms in North Korea

August 8th, 2014

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North Korea has engaged in various forms of economic reforms and marketization attempts such as establishing Special Economic Zones and obtaining Foreign Direct Investment. Yet, many of North Korea’s current and potential investors are skeptical about investing in a country with little transparency, high unpredictability, and investor safeguards. Dr. Stephan M. Haggard of UC San Diego’s School of International Relations and Pacific Studies explains the problems and challenges, as well as the potential, of reforming North Korea’s economy. Dr. Haggard also touches upon the issue of reunification in relation to the North’s economy, and how Pyongyang’s neighbors can influence the future of North Korea’s economy.
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Income Inequality: Important Economic Lessons Looking at South Korea

July 25th, 2014

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In this episode, we talk with Dr. Yiagadeesen Samy of Carleton University on income inequality in South Korea and its affect on Korea’s economy. Dr. Samy is an economist and an Associate Professor at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada. He is also a Distinguished Research Associate at the North-South Institute. Dr. Samy has written an Academic Paper Series report for KEI on income inequality, and he has done previous work looking at income inequality in the other countries. Before this research on South Korea, he was examining income inequality in Brazil.

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China-North Korea Relations: The Border Region, SEZs, and the Purge of Jang Song-taek

June 20th, 2014

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In this episode, we talk with Dr. Adam Cathcart of the University of Leeds and of Sino-NK about China-North Korea relations. Dr. Cathcart has just written an Academic Paper Series report for KEI examining China-North Korea cooperation in Special Economic Zones along the border and the future of the Chinese-North Korean relationship after the purge of Jang Song-taek. He also recently visited the border region between China and North Korea.

 

Articles and books mentioned in this podcast:

 

Adam Cathcart, “In the Shadow of Jang Song-taek: Pyongyang’s Evolving SEZ Strategy with the Hwanggumpyeong and Wihwa Islands,” Korea Economic Institute of America, Academic Paper Series, June 19, 2014.

http://www.keia.org/sites/default/files/publications/kei_aps_cathcart_2014.pdf


Please click here to view the video of the June 19, 2014 program with Dr. Cathcart

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Australia, Korea and the Dynamics of Northeast Asia

May 22nd, 2014

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President Obama wasn't the only leader who had to make important visits to multiple Asian countries this past April. Australia’s Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, had to make an important trip of his own to Japan, South Korea, and China. Hayley Channer, an Analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, who is also a Visiting Scholar at the East-West Center in Washington, DC, believes that there are some interesting comparisons and themes that can be drawn from the trips of these two leaders. In addition, she also thinks there is room for Australia to help mend Korea-Japan ties. In this episode, we discuss these ideas as well as Australia’s views of Korea and Asia.

Articles and books mentioned in this podcast:  

Hayley Channer, “Australia’s Gains in Northeast Asia Pave the Way for Obama’s Trip,” April 22, 2014, East-West Center, Asia Pacific Bulletin, No. 258, at http://www.eastwestcenter.org/publications/australia%E2%80%99s-gains-in-northeast-asia-pave-the-way-obama%E2%80%99s-trip


Hayley Channer, “Manufacturing Partners: Japan-South Korea security Cooperation and Australia’s Potential Role,” Australian Strategic Policy Institute, Strategic Insight, March 2014, at https://www.aspi.org.au/publications/manufacturing-partners-japan-south-korea-security-cooperation-and-australias-potential-role/SI69Japan_ROK.pdf


Hugh White, The China Choice: Why America Should Share Power, Black Inc, Melbourne Australia, 2012.

Hugh White, “Power Shift: Australia’s Future between Washington and Beijing,” Quarterly Essay No. 39.

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The Francis Effect in Asia

April 25th, 2014

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The Francis Effect is everywhere. Time Magazine named Pope Francis their 2013 Person of the Year, another magazine dedicated specifically to covering Pope Francis has been started in Italy, and politicians and leaders are trying to use the Pope’s messages as support for their own causes. The Francis effect will be large in Asia this year as the Vatican announced that Pope Francis will visit South Korea in August. Moreover, with the canonization of Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II on April 27, this gives us an opportunity to examine the last time a Pope visited South Korea as well


In this episode, we talk via Skype with Father Dennis McNamara of Georgetown University, about Pope John Paul II’s 1984 and 1989 visits to South Korea, the progression of Catholicism and religion in Korea, and potential themes for Pope Francis’s visit in August. Father Dennis McNamara, S.J. is the Park Professor of Sociology and Korean Studies at Georgetown University He is also the Special Assistant for China Affairs to Georgetown University’s President. He serves as a member of the Council of Foreign Relations in New York, and chairs the weekly Korea Seminar at the Foreign Service Institute of the U.S. State Department. In Asia, he serves as an Adjunct Professor in the Graduate School of International Studies at Sogang University in Seoul, and lectures at Renmin and Fudan Universities in China, Waseda and Sophia Universities in Tokyo, and Thammasat University in Bangkok.
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Public Opinion in South Korea: Insights into Relations with U.S., China and Japan

October 24th, 2013


Public opinion can help to both shape and inform public policy. A president with strong approval numbers across ideological divides has significant scope to make policy decisions. While a national consensus on an issue can both help to facilitate policy options and limit the scope for compromise on critical foreign policy issues. To discuss this important aspect of the policy process, Korean Kontext sat down with Karl Friedhoff of the Asan Institute for Policy Studies to discuss the favorability of the new Park Geun-hye administration, the future influence of the United States and China on global affairs, as well as the prospect of a new norm in Korea-Japan relations.

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A Frank Discussion on the Challenges for Economic Reform in North Korea

October 4th, 2013


In the mid-1990s, North Korea experienced a famine that by some estimates wiped out 10 percent of the population. Though many at the time thought the regime would collapse, it has maintained control on power while at times allowing markets to spring up to supplement the state economy. At various points these openings have led to speculation that North Korea could engage in Chinese style economic reforms.


With Kim Jong-un now calling for his regime to pursue both guns and butter, it has again raised speculation that North Korea could engage in economic reforms. While it is still unclear if this is indeed the case, Korean Kontext sat down with Rüdiger Frank, Professor at the University of Vienna to discuss the challenges North Korea would face if it pursued economic reform , how regional leadership changes could impact Pyoungyang’s calculations, and the prospects for the new South Korean administration’s policy of Trustpolitik.
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China and Northeast Asia

September 27th, 2013


Over the last decade, China has become an increasingly important country for South Korea has it has emerged as Seoul’s largest trading partner and a leading player in efforts to convince North Korea to abandon its nuclear ambitions. However, China’s increasing influence in recent years has also raised concerns among the nations of Northeast and Southeast Asia. 

With new leadership now in place in both Seoul and Beijing, Korean Kontext sat down with Dr. David Kang, Director of the Korean Studies Institute and Professor of International Relations and Business at the University of Southern California, to discuss the impacts of China’s rise on Northeast Asia and the future of South Korea’s relations with China under Park Geun-hye and Xi Jinping.
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Prospects for the Future of the Kaesong Industrial Complex

September 20th, 2013


On April 8, North Korea withdrew all of its workers from the Kaesong Industrial Complex, temporarily placing on hold the last form of cooperation between North and South Korea from the sunshine era. The complex, which employed 53,000 North Korean workers at 123 South Korean factories, served as an important form of cooperation and had become the primary avenue for trade between the two Koreas. 


Prior to the decision to reopen the complex, Korean Kontext spoke with:

  • Marcus Noland of the Peterson Institute for International Economics
  • Mark Manyin of the Congressional Research Service (CRS)
about the history of the Kaesong Industrial Complex, the challenges in making it commercially viable once it reopens, and the prospects for international investment.

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South Korea - U.S. Nuclear Cooperation: Opportunities and Challenges

March 14th, 2013

South Korea’s nuclear energy industry has for decades been facilitated through close cooperation with counterparts in the United States under what is known as a “123 Agreement”.  Today South Korea’s nuclear power program supplies roughly one third of the nation’s electricity and the country has begun a concerted effort to break into the nuclear export market.  But as South Korea’s nuclear power industry and infrastructure has grown, so too has its desire for peaceful nuclear sovereignty, something that would entail their acquisition of domestic reprocessing and uranium enrichment facilities.


A problem arises from the fact that the current U.S. – South Korea nuclear cooperation agreement limits Seoul’s capacity to acquire the sensitive nuclear technologies required for both reprocessing and uranium enrichment. However, because that treaty expires on March 19 2014, Korean policy makers are currently negotiating with American counterparts to change the terms of agreement.


To date, the U.S. has opposed South Korea’s requests on the grounds of general non-proliferation policy and the complications that such activities might pose for other security issues on the Korean peninsula. On the other hand, South Korea needs to find a solution to its nuclear waste problem, and hopes  to join the ranks of U.S. allies like Japan and India trusted with enrichment and reprocessing technologies.


With scope for potential disagreement, the two parties are running out of time to find a mutually satisfactory solution to the dilemma, and even after any updated 123 agreement is filed, it must sit before congress for 90 days, with time reserved for any complications which may arise during the review process.


As debates continue to swirl about the future of U.S. – South Korea nuclear cooperation we invite you to join us for a special podcast that looks at the issue from a number of angles. Panelists include:


  • Mr. Gordon Flake, Mansfield Foundation (Washington, DC)
  • Mr. Mark Fitzpatrick, International Institute for Strategic Studies (London)
  • Mr. Mark Holt, Congressional Research Service (Washington, DC)
  • Prof. Seongho Sheen, Seoul National University (Seoul, ROK)
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James Pearson : A Window Into Korean Internet Culture

January 24th, 2013

James Pearson Korea Bang

Not everyone in Korea or foreigners abroad want to hear about national advertising initiatives that focus on mainstream issues like K-Pop, Hallyu or ancient Korean Kimchi culture. Instead, many want to know what ordinary Koreans are talking about and how they feel while going about their daily lives.  But where do they go to find out about these kind of things without Korean language skills?

Well, stepping in to fill this void last year was a website called Korea Bang, developed by two postgraduate Korean Studies students hailing from the United Kingdom. Geared primarily at offering English translations of Korea’s most popular online stories and related comments, KoreaBang.com has grown rapidly to become one of the most visited English language websites in the world to focus exclusively on Korean daily life and culture.

To find out more, Korean Kontext spoke to one of the sites two founding editors, Mr. James Pearson. Through an in-depth interview with Pearson, we found out how the site plays an important role for both the general public and serious Korea watching communities. Pearson also gave details about the unique lens that the site provides and detailed some of the stories that often lay untouched by English language media.

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Meet The Honorees : Korean American Day 2013

January 17th, 2013

Korean American Day Honorees On January 11, 2013, the Korea Economic Institute of America recently led Washington DC's celebration of Korean American Day by hosting a luncheon event to honor two Korean Americans for their work in giving back to local, regional, and international communities.  Joined at the event by World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim and NBC4 TV Presenter Eun Yang, KEIA recognized the work of One Day's Wages founder Eugene Cho, and Kyung Yoon, co-founder of the Korean American Community Foundation.

After the event and ceremony, Korean Kontext got the opportunity to speak more with Eugene and Kyung, to find out more about their work, how Korean Americans are giving back, and what they thought about being recognized for their endeavors.  Join us for a very special podcast with the honorees of Korean American Day 2013!

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North Korea’s Satellite Launch: Mark Fitzpatrick - IISS

December 7th, 2012

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With North Korea announcing to the world that it will be attempting to launch a second satellite for 2012, many analysts have been speculating as to why Pyongyang is so keen to try another launch just months after the last one ended in catastrophic failure. Marking the 100 year anniversary of Kim Il Sung’s birth, 2012 is a highly symbolic year for North Korea and it seems likely that domestic motivations are playing an important role in understanding the timing of the next launch. But with South Korea’s presidential elections coinciding with the rocket launch window, it is also possible the DPRK may be attempting to influence that the ROK’s electoral outcome.

To make sense of what's going on, Korea Kontext spoke to Mark Fitzpatrick, the Director of Non-Proliferation and Disarmament at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS). Following North Korea's weapons of mass destruction programs for a number of years, Fitzpatrick has a close understanding of the drivers behind Pyongyang's strategic thinking.  Prior to his appointment at IISS, Fitzpatrick focused on non-proliferation issues at the State Department in Washington DC for over 25 years. Among his duties, Fitzpatrick oversaw implementation of the Proliferation Security Initiative, advanced conventional arms and technology controls, proliferation sanctions, and export control cooperation programs.

Join us for a timely and insightful conversation on the impact and consequences of North Korea's next satellite launch.

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Korea: The Impossible Country - Daniel Tudor

November 26th, 2012

Daniel Tudor, author of Korea: The Impossible Country In this episode we spoke to The Economist's South Korea correspondent, Daniel Tudor. Having been based in Korea for over a decade, Tudor has just finished writing one of the few English language books to have been published in recent years on the subject of the Republic of Korea.

In Korea: The Impossible Country, Tudor examines Korea's cultural foundations; the Korean character; the public sphere in politics, business, and the workplace as well as the family, dating, and marriage. In doing so, he touches on topics as diverse as shamanism, clan-ism, the dilemma posed by North Korea, the myths about doing business in Korea, the Koreans' renowned hard-partying ethos, and why the infatuation with learning English is now causing huge social problems.

In the podcast we touch upon several of these subjects and take a close look at some of the unique qualities that have made South Korea the country it is today. Join us for a fascinating conversation and download the episode today!

For more information on Tudor's new book, click here.

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Psy & The Rise of K-Pop : Mark Russell

October 15th, 2012

With worldwide familiarity of Korean pop culture increasing through the viral exposure of Korean musician Psy’s hit record “Gangnam Style”, this episode Korean Kontext speaks to Mark James Russell, author of “Pop Goes to Korea”.

Having lived in South Korea for over 13 years, Russell is a regular writer on Korean culture and entertainment for the New York Times, Newsweek, and Hollywood Reporter among other titles. Having also spent several years developing and producing several documentaries about Korean pop culture and history, Korean Kontext thought he would make an ideal candidate for trying to understand South Korea’s increasing prominence in the worlds of film, music and art.

What does the rise of Psy tell us about the popularity of Korean music in the United States, how is the internet helping bubble Korean content creators to the top of the game, and what role can government play in catalyzing the cultural output of its people? Mark answers these questions and more in essential listening for anyone interested in Korea’s growing cultural prominence.

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