The Kim Monarchy: Reframing Political Legitimacy in North Korea

November 20th, 2015


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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.

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


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

Hayley Channer, “Manufacturing Partners: Japan-South Korea security Cooperation and Australia’s Potential Role,” Australian Strategic Policy Institute, Strategic Insight, March 2014, at

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


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, 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


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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B.R. Myers - The Cleanest Race

September 24th, 2012

BR Myers Portrait

In this episode we spoke to B.R. Myers, author of “The Cleanest Race” and regular contributor to the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and The Atlantic.  Having been raised in South Africa and having received his MA in Soviet Studies just in time for the fall of the Berlin Wall, Myers went on to earn a PhD in North Korean literature in the early 1990s.  Now based in South Korea, Myers is an associate professor of international studies at Dongseo University in Busan

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 a Confucian 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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Jennifer Lind: Dartmouth College

September 4th, 2012

In this interview Korea Kontext speaks with Dr. Jennifer Lind, assistant professor at the Department of Government, Dartmouth College.  Well known for her work on North Korea and N.E. Asia security issues, Lind’s research interests includes war memory and international politics, regime change and East Asian stability, and the evolution of nationalism.  She’s also well known for a paper she wrote last year with Bruce Bennett of the Rand Foundation, which focused on what force requirements would be needed in the event of a benign collapse of the Pyongyang regime.

With her North Korea focus, in this episode we caught up with Dr. Lind about the DPRK government’s resilience and whether or not it will be possible for Kim Jong-un to make substantial reforms moving forward.  If you enjoy the podcast, you may also be interested in reading an additional Q&A with her on the KEI blog website, on the subject of inter-state apologies in N.E. Asia.

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Steve Byrne: Sullivan And Sons

August 14th, 2012

Steve Byrne Sullivan

In this episode we spoke to comedian and actor Steven Byrne, of the brand new TBS series “Sullivan and Sons”.  Known as one of the hardest working and energetic comics in the U.S., since his first show in 1997 Byrne has gradually risen to the top and become one of America’s premiere comics to watch. Hailing from Pittsburgh, Steve Byrne was born to a Korean mother and an Irish father and has been featured in numerous comedy tours and festivals including the The Kims of Comedy with fellow Korean-American comedians Bobby Lee, Ken Jeong and Kevin Shea.

In the podcast Korean Kontext talked to Byrne over Skype about his links to Korea, his decision to pursue a career in comedy, and his new project, Sullivan and Sons. Join us for a fascinating conversation with one of the funniest comedians in the U.S.

You can find out more about the show Sullivan & Sons at the TBS website.  Visit Steve Byrne's website here.

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L. Gordon Flake - Mike & Maureen Mansfield Foundation

July 24th, 2012

some_text Korean Kontext recently spoke to Gordon Flake of the Mike and Maureen Mansfield Foundation for a conversation about Korea's rising prominence as a "middle power".  Focussing on South Korea's rapidly strengthening international status, Mr. Flake explained the conditions that helped lead to South Korea's impressive growth, how its influence on the global stage compares to other similarly sized nations, and how its alliance with the U.S. helps contribute to its position.

L. Gordon Flake joined the Mansfield Foundation in February 1999.  He was previously a Senior Fellow and Associate Director of the Program on Conflict Resolution at The Atlantic Council of the United States and prior to that Director for Research and Academic Affairs at the Korea Economic Institute of America. He has authored numerous book chapters on policy issues in Asia and is a regular contributor to the U.S. and Asian press.  Mr. Flake has traveled to North Korea numerous times.  He is a member of the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies and serves on the Board of the United States Committee of the Council for Security Cooperation in the Asia-Pacific (USCSCAP) as well as on the Board of the U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea and the Advisory Council of the Korea Economic Institute of America.

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Lt. General Robert Gard Jr. - Korean War Veteran

June 25th, 2012

62 years ago on this day of June 25, hostilities broke out on the Korean peninsula. It was a conflict that ended only due to what everybody thought would be a temporary armistice agreement.  Who would have thought six decades later, a state of war would still prevail on the Korean peninsula and that the DPRK would have develop a nuclear weapons capability?

To remember the past and look forward to the future, in this episode Korean Kontext spoke to current Chairman of The Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation and Korean War veteran, Lt. General Robert G. Gard, Jr.

Having fought in the Korean war, for the first half of the interview General Gard reflects upon his initial deployment to Korea, details his first impressions of Korea, and describes the complex dynamics that the Cold War presented.  In the second half of the interview, Gard sets out his personal views and opinions on why efforts to prevent a nuclear North Korea ultimately failed and what opportunities were missed.

Beyond his contribution to the United States army, Gard served as Executive Assistant to two secretaries of defense; was the first Director of Human Resources Development for the U.S. Army; Special Assistant to the Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs; and President of National Defense University (NDU).

Gard also served for five years as director of the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies Center in Bologna, Italy, and then as President of the Monterey Institute of International Studies from 1987 to 1998.

The views expressed in this podcast reflect General Gard's own personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Korea Economic Institute.

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Shin Kyung-sook - Author, “Please Look After Mom”

June 15th, 2012

Press Shot Korean Kontext caught up with Man Asian literary prize winner Shin Kyung-sook for a chat about her latest novel, “Please Look After Mom".  Shin became the first woman and South Korean to ever take the prize after being chosen above better known contenders like Haruki Moorakami and Tahm ima Anam.

"Please Look After Mom", recently translated into English, traces the life of Park So-nyo, a wife and mother who suffers a stroke and becomes separated from her husband on the train when travelling from the countryside into Seoul. As her family search the South Korean capital's streets for her, they remember So-nyo's life and the sacrifices she has made for them.  "Please Look After Mom" has already sold almost two million copies in South Korea alone, and is now set to be released in 32 countries.

In our conversation with Shin Kyung-sook, we asked her about why she thought the book had become so popular, what she thought of its reception in the U.S., and for her impressions of modern society and the changing media environment.

Picture Credit: Man Asian Literary Prize

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South Korean Minister for Trade, Bark Taeho

May 31st, 2012

Trade Minister Bark

In this special episode, Korean Kontext had the opportunity to speak to South Korean Minister for Trade, Bark Taeho, during his latest visit to Washington DC.

KEI’s Vice President, Dr. Abraham Kim led the conversation with Minister Bark, talking with him about Korea’s recovery from the global economic crisis, Korean investment in emerging economies, progress in implementing the KORUS FTA, and Asian regional integration.

Prior to his role with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Minister Bark was the Dean of the Graduate School of International Studies at Seoul National University.

Holding a PhD in Economics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Minister Bark has ample practical experience in the field, having been Chairman of Korea Trade Commission, President at the Korean Association of Trade and Industry Studies, and Chair of the Investment Expert Group of APEC.  In addition to his impressive professional experience, Minister Bark was a former visiting scholar at both the World Bank and IMF, and also taught at the Asia-Pacific Research Center at Stanford University.

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James Kyson - Heroes

May 15th, 2012

James Kyson Lee, Heroes For the latest episode, Korean Kontext spoke to Korean-American actor James Kyson. Having made waves for his performance as Japanese character Ando Masahashi on hit NBC television series "Heroes", Korean Kontext caught up with James for a chat about the role, his broader career, and interests outside of acting.  Moving to the United States aged ten, we also asked James about growing up in New York City as an immigrant,what he thought about Hallyu – otherwise known as the Korean wave, his views on the prospects for U.S. – Korea relations, and purely out of interest, what his first on-screen kiss was like.

Join us for a must-hear conversation with the one and only Korean-American "Hero"!

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Steven Yeun: The Walking Dead

April 27th, 2012


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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How Korea’s English-Language Media is Changing the World: A Discussion with Sohn, Jie-Ae, Arirang TV

April 5th, 2012


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 South Korean elections, the role of women in South Korea, her experiences as a journalist, and more.

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Iran Sanctions and South Korea

March 26th, 2012

Iran Sanctions Preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons has emerged to be one of the key foreign policy priorities of the Obama administration. Despite efforts among Western powers to form a united front in trying to pressure Iran to become more transparent with its nuclear program, questions remain regarding Tehrans intentions, and talk of war has become increasingly louder in Western media.

In an effort to resolve the issue, President Obama increased the pressure on Iran on December 31 2011, by signing into law the 2012 National Defense Authorization act, a move which laid the groundwork for a policy banning any state from transactions with the Central Bank of Iran. The policy in effect prohibits the signing or continuation of oil contracts with Iran and any third country or company that wants to continue to deal with the U.S.

As a close ally of the U.S. and a country with a clear commitment to nuclear non-proliferation, South Korea has a strong impetus to go along with international efforts to reduce oil imports from Iran. However, being an energy importing country that obtains nearly ten per cent of its oil supplies from Iran each year, South Korea is in a difficult position.

In an effort to better understand the situation and choices that Seoul now faces, Korean Kontext spoke to

- Dr. Matthew Kroenig, Stanton Nuclear Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations

- Dr. Balbina Hwang, Visiting Professor at the National Defense University / Georgetown University

- Philip Yun, Executive Director and Chief Operating Officer of the Ploughshares Fund

- Tim Boersma, Fellow at the German Marshall Fund's Transatlantic Academy

Join us for a stimulating discussion on the complexities of the sanctions situation, South Korea's bilateral relations with Iran, and how North Korea impacts on the decision making process.

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KORUS FTA: Wendy Cutler and Kim Ghee-whan

March 15th, 2012

South Korea Flag UK Flag NK Flag

By the time you read this, the KORUS FTA will have entered the implementation stage. To celebrate, Korean Kontext caught up with two of the main movers-and-shakers behind the deal to find out more about what it was like to work on the agreement and learn about their thoughts and hopes as things now move forward.

Starting the conversation, Korean Kontext spoke to Ms. Wendy Cutler, Assistant U.S. Trade Representative for Japan, Korea and APEC Affairs. During the conversation she talked about how the post-FTA U.S. – Korea relationship fits into the broader regional economic picture, what it had been like to work on Korea over the past decade, and what challenges still remained.

To get a better impression of Seoul’s perspective, Korean Kontext went to the ROK Embassy to speak to Minister for Economic Affairs Kim Ghee-Whan about his view on the agreement. He explained why the deal was so beneficial to Korea, how his country would take full advantage of it, and how he had found working in the U.S.

Download the podcast here and celebrate the implementation of what some are now calling the “third pillar” of the U.S. – Korea alliance.

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Ambassadors Wolstenholme and Choo

February 23rd, 2012

South Korea Flag UK Flag NK Flag

This episode of Korean Kontext has a distinctly British flavor, featuring interviews with two leading Ambassadors that work closely on UK and Korea related affairs.

While recently in London, Korean Kontext had the opportunity of speaking to South Korea's Ambassador to the UK,  Choo Kyu-ho. Through an insightful exchange with the Ambassador, Korean Kontext learnt about South Korea's diplomatic objectives in the UK, what lessons North East Asian countries might be able to learn from the Eurozone crisis and EU integration, and what it was like for the Embassy to work in a country also sharing a DPRK diplomatic presence.

And back in Washington DC, Korean Kontext recently met with the UK's new Ambassador to North Korea - Karen Wolstenholme.  A fascinating conversation with the UK's top diplomat in North Korea reveals what life is like as an Ambassador in Pyongyang, what level of in-country contact the UK has with DPRK officials, and how things have been like since the death of Kim Jong-il.

Tune in and download the podcast today - it is an essential listen for any Korea-watcher!

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Phillippe Cousteau, JR - USA Pavillion

January 31st, 2012

Cousteau picture This episode, Korean Kontext speaks to Phillippe Cousteau JR, chief spokesperson for the USA Pavillion at the 2012 Yeosu Exposition.  With the overall theme of the expo named "The Living Ocean and Coast", Korean Kontext spoke to Cousteau to find out more about his passion for marine affairs and conversation, his team's plans for the U.S. take on the theme, and to learn more about the exciting "Student Ambassador" program on offer to students seeking to get out to Korea to take part in this expo.

The 2012 Yeosu Exposition will be taking place in the coastal town of Yeosu in South Korea from May to August 2012, and the U.S. will be represented among 103 countries at the USA Pavillion.  The United States’ commitment to World Expo 2012 highlights the strong relationship between the United States and the Republic of Korea.

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Daniel Dae Kim: Actor

January 18th, 2012

On Friday January 13, the Korea Economic Institute (KEI) celebrated Korean American day at the Newseum, in Washington, DC.  As part of the celebration, KEI recognized three Korean-American pioneers in the fields of art and literature:

- Peter H. Lee, Professor Emeritus of Korean and Comparative Literature, UCLA

- Youngsuk Chi, Chairman, Elsevier Management Committee

- Daniel Dae Kim, Actor, "Hawaii Five-0" and "Lost"

Following the award ceremony and a short discussion panel (currently viewable on KEI's Youtube Channel), Korean Kontext got the opportunity to speak to Daniel Dae Kim about his life as a Korean American actor growing up in the United States.

In this special Korean-American day episode of Korean Kontext, find out about Daniel Dae Kim's decision to choose acting over law, his interest in politics, how he balances being both American and Korean, and how he gives back to the community as a whole.   Join us for a fascinating insight into Daniel Dae Kim's work both on and off the stage.

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North Korea After Kim Jong-il

January 5th, 2012


Our latest edition of Korean Kontext focuses on the recent death of Kim Jong-il and the prospects for North Korea under the stewardship of his son, Kim Jong-un.  In this special length episode recorded in the United Kingdom,  Korean Kontext spoke to four European experts and practitioners:

1) Britain’s long-time North Korea watcher Mr. Aidan Foster-Carter (Honorary Senior Research Fellow in Sociology & Modern Korea, Leeds University);

2) Mr. Andray Abrahamian (the Executive Director of Chosun Exchange - a not-for-profit focusing on educational issues in the DPRK);

3)  Ms. Marie-laure Verdier (a specialist studying humanitarian NGOs active along the China-North Korea border; and

4) Mr. Gareth Johnson (a British entrepreneur who lives in China and does business in North Korea).

With North Koreans idolizing the Kim family for over six decades, it was no surprise to see the country shut-down in widespread grief for an official period of mourning following news of Kim Jong-il’s death.  But how was the news received elsewhere in the world like Europe? How was the quality of the general news coverage?  What was the impact on Western business and NGO activities along the border regions and within North Korea? How did North Korea’s interaction with the outside world change after the death especially with international NGOs and businesses?  The Korean Kontext explores these questions and more with European experts that give their assessment of North Korea’s tenuous future.

Come listen to the conversations as the Korean Kontext analyzes one of the most significant developments North of the DMZ this millennium.

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Tourism in North Korea: A Special Feature

November 23rd, 2011

Pulpit rock Ever wondered why someone might be motivated to spend their summer vacation  in the DPRK, or interested to learn about the guides that accompany visitors during a stay in North Korea? Perhaps you'd like to know more about the legalities of visiting Mount Kumgang, a resort originally developed by South Korea's Hyundai Asan, expropriated by DPRK authorities earlier this year.  If so, then this special-length podcast is definitely for you!

In our North Korea tourism special, Korean Kontext speaks to two of the movers-and-shakers in the world of DPRK tourism.  Simon Cockerell is the General Manager at Koryo Tours, a British run company that has been leading tours to the DPRK since 1993 , that has also helped produce several award winning documentaries on the country.  Walter Keats is President of Asia Pacific Travel, a U.S. company that has been conducting tours to N.E. Asia since the 1970s, and visits specifically to North Korea since 1995.  Join us for a fascinating conversation about the nature of tourism in one of the world's most unique destinations!

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TK: Ask a Korean

October 28th, 2011

In this episode, Chad O'Carroll speaks with "TK" ("The Korean"), the man behind the must-read blog, "Ask a Korean".  TK has been running his blog for five years and it covers a wide range of questions from curious visitors on everything from Korean customs and culture to politics and law. The "Ask a Korean" blog has also been featured in a variety of media outlets, including the New York Times, the Economist, and CNN Online. Join us as TK shares his insights on U.S.-Korea relations, being a Korean living in America, and even the dreaded scourge of fan death.

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Scott Snyder: Council on Foreign Relations

October 21st, 2011

In this episode, Korean Kontext Scott Snyder of the Council on Foreign Relations. Having written a number of publications on U.S. relations with South and North Korea, and speaking regularly to various media, Scott is one of the leading voices on Korean affairs in Washington DC. In this interview, he talks to Korean Kontext about President Lee Myung Bak's recent summit meeting with President Obama in Washington DC, and recent developments with regards to both the KORUS FTA and North Korea.

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Andrei Lankov: Kookmin University

September 26th, 2011

In this episode, Korea Economic Institute's Director of Public Affairs and Regional Issues Sarah Yun speaks with Dr. Andrei Lankov of Kookimin University. Having written a number of books on North Korea, and contributing to regular columns in the Asia Times, Korea Times and The Daily NK, Dr. Lankov is one of the leading voices on the DPRK. Hailing originally from Saint Petersburg (then Leningrad), Lankov has a unique background among Korea Watchers, having studied in North Korea during the 1980s and witnessed the breakup of his native Soviet Union in the early 1990s. In this interview, he talks to Sarah about his time living in North Korea, current prospects for inter-Korean relations, and how he remains motivated to work on the issue - despite a rather negative outlook for the future of the peninsula.

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