Prepping for the Paralympics in PyeongChang

January 31st, 2018

jsh_korea_society.pngOn February 9, years of hard work will culminate in the opening of the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea. A month later, on March 8, the 2018 Winter Paralympics will continue to bring excitement to PyeongChang.

At a recent event organized by The Korea Society in New York, Korean Kontext host Jenna Gibson was able to speak briefly with Jung Seung-Hwan, one of the stars of the South Korean Para Ice Hockey team. They discusses his background in ice sledge hockey (now known as para ice hockey), his goals for PyeongChang, and how he got the nickname "Rocketman."


Photo courtesy of The Korea Society

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A Conversation with Min Jin Lee, Author of the Acclaimed Novel Pachinko

January 22nd, 2018

Spanning nearly a century and multiple generations, Min Jin Lee's Pachinko tells the story of a Korean family struggling to find their place in Japan before, during, and after the Korean War. It is a story that touches on a myriad of themes, including identity, the role of women, war, and discrimination. Pachinko has been widely praised, earning a place as one of the best books of 2017 on lists from The Chicago Tribune, NPR, CNN, and many more. 


Korean Kontext host Jenna Gibson spoke with Min Jin Lee over the phone about why she started writing Pachinko, how the story evolved over time, and what she's working on next.

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Exploring North Korea Through Art: A Conversation with Mina Cheon

January 11th, 2018

Mina_Cheon.jpgA woman in hanbok joyfully rises above Mt. Baekdu, arms raised, in a art piece entitled Umma Rises: Towards Global Peace. This is just one of many recent art pieces by artist Mina Cheon featuring her North Korean persona, Kim Il Soon. Using her colorful and provocative style of "polipop" art, Cheon has been exploring issues such as information flow into North Korea, propaganda, and motherhood.

Korean Kontext host Jenna Gibson recently sat down with Cheon to discuss her creative inspirations, some of her recent and past work related to North Korea, and much more.


To see some of Cheon's work and learn about her recent exhibition at the Ethan Cohen Gallery in New York, please click here

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What Can North Korean Soap Operas Tell Us About Kim Jong-un’s Priorities?

December 11th, 2017

A group of women gossiping about the new neighbor. A feisty middle schooler using a homemade drone to prank his classmates. A young military officer seeking information from his past. These themes could be from any American TV show. But they are, in fact, storylines from a new wave of soap operas produced by the North Korean state.


Former AP journalist Jean Lee, now a Global Fellow at The Wilson Center, analyzed four of these North Korean soaps for a new research paper commissioned by KEI. In this episode of Korean Kontext, she discusses some of her observations, including a shift from emphasizing military service to emphasizing family ties and a focus on youth and the next generation of North Koreans - themes which may indicate some of Kim Jong-un's main domestic priorities.

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Is the THAAD Row Over? The Future of South Korea-China Relations

December 4th, 2017

DSC_0401.jpgAfter more than a year of tensions over the Terminal High Altitude Aerial Defense (THAAD) system that is now deployed in South Korea, Seoul and Beijing seem to have made steps toward thawing relations. But is the row over THAAD really over? Will South Korean business see a return to normal in China? And what will the Chinese learn from this experience of using economic leverage to influence South Korean political decisions?


Bonnie Glaser, senior advisor for Asia and director of the China Power Project at CSIS, joins Korean Kontext host Jenna Gibson to discuss the latest in South Korea-China relations, as well as what it means for security and diplomacy in the region moving forward.

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[Rebroadcast] Marriage Migrants and Multicultural Families in South Korea

November 21st, 2017

38226324122_a70643de10_k.jpgFor many years, South Korea has been a homogeneous country. But with more foreigners coming to live in Korea, that is starting to change. In fact, the Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs estimates that the number of multicultural families in Korea could reach nearly 750,000 by 2020.

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

Note: This is a rebroadcast of an episode from August 11, 2016.

Image from Steve Baty's photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

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How do South Koreans View Donald Trump?

November 13th, 2017

38226324122_a70643de10_k.jpgWith President Donald Trump finishing up his first official trip to Asia, including a stop in South Korea last week, this week's episode of Korean Kontext asks: what do South Koreans think of President Trump? 


KEI program manager Juni Kim has been following the polls, and has found that while very few members of the Korean public have confidence in President Trump, their views of the United States as a whole remain high. In this week's podcast, host Jenna Gibson sits down with Juni to discuss some of the polling in South Korea about the United States and its leader, as well as how he thinks President Trump's trip to Korea could affect his approval rating among Koreans.


Image from Republic of Korea's photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

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Previewing Trump’s Trip to Asia

November 3rd, 2017

33109582956_08249e03d6_k.jpgPresident Donald Trump is off on his longest international trip yet, stopping in Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam and the Philippines. There, he is expected to tackle a range of issues, including responses to North Korea's nuclear and missle programs as well as economic ties between the United States and the Asia Pacific. 


In this episode, we talk with Mark Fitzpatrick, Executive Director of IISS–Americas, about his expectations for the trip, how he thinks President Trump will handle the North Korea question, and particularly how his first visit to South Korea will go.


*Please note this episode was pre-recorded, some details of the trip may have subsequently changed*


Image from North Charleston's photostream on flickr Creative Commons. 

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Healthcare in North Korea

October 29th, 2017

6289228147_1746ce9d73_b.jpgAs a communist state, North Korea has promised to provide its people with basic services, including healthcare and medical treatment. However, particularly in recent years, the cash-strapped Kim regime has been unable to provide even some basic medical services. Famine and poverty have exacerbated the problem, leaving diseases like tuberculosis to run rampant in the DPRK.


Researcher Dr. John Grundy, an expert on public health, recently completed a paper for KEI on the functionality and limits of the North Korean healthcare system as it evolved from 1953 to the present. In this episode of Korean Kontext, he sits down with host Jenna Gibson to discuss his paper and some of the unique challenges North Korean healthcare faces today.


To read Dr. Grundy's paper, please click here.

Image from United Nations Photo on flickr Creative Commons.

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The Revolution will be Thumb Drived: North Korean Access to Outside Media

October 20th, 2017

37274035480_25175068ba_z.jpg While North Korea under the Kim regime has tried to maintain tight control of information sources within its borders, the North Korean populace in recent years has found creative ways to access outside media, which includes everything from foreign news broadcasts to the latest South Korean dramas.


Nat Kretchen, Deputy Director at the Open Technology Fund, participated in a panel here at KEI this week and discussed his research on North Korea’s developing information environment. Nat sat down with us afterwards to talk more about how everyday North Koreans access information and how the regime is fighting back against the increase of foreign media in the country.

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North Korea’s “Guerrilla Internationalism”

October 13th, 2017

37274035480_25175068ba_z.jpgWith North Korea becoming an increasingly dangerous threat to the U.S. and its allies, it can be all too easy to overlook North Korea’s origins and how its foreign policy first took shape. One of the lesser known aspects of North Korea’s foreign policy was its heavy involvement in supporting non-state actor and rebel movements in Africa, Latin America, and Southeast Asia.


Benjamin Young, a PhD Candidate in East Asian History at George Washington University, recently presented his paper on North Korea’s support of non-state actors as part of KEI’s Academic Paper Series. He sat down with Korean Kontext guest host Juni Kim to discuss how North Korea’s first leader Kim Il Sung’s experiences in guerrilla warfare shaped his foreign policy and what his legacy means for North Korea today.


Please note the following corrections:

16:59 - Kim Il-Sung died in 1994

17:49 - The aid agency is called Doctors Without Borders

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American Eggs-ports to South Korea

October 6th, 2017

DSC_0005.jpgU.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Korean Trade Minister Kim Hyun-chong met this week to discuss the future of the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement (KORUS FTA). With concerns of a possible withdrawal hovering over the talks, the two countries agreed to move forward on working to improve the agreement, which is surely welcome news for US exporters that have benefitted from the KORUS FTA.


This week we sat down with Sam Cho, founder and CEO of Seven Seas Export, to discuss his company's work in exporting American eggs to South Korea and the benefits that KORUS provides to American farmers. We also discuss how Sam got started in the trade business and how the bird flu affected the South Korean egg market.

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Keeping North Korean Human Rights in the Conversation

September 28th, 2017

Olivia_Podcast.jpgWith North Korea launching missile after missile and even conducting a massive nuclear test within the last month or so, attention is understandably focused on how to get the regime in Pyongyang to back down from its provocative actions. But at the same time, there is another important issue that can also affect how the world deals with North Korea - human rights. 


Olivia Enos of the Heritage Foundation researches human rights issues around Asia including the DPRK, and believes that human rights can, and should, underpin our diplomatic and security strategies toward Pyongyang. In this episode, she tells Korean Kontest host Jenna Gibson about how human rights and security are intertwined, how the Trump Administration can weave human rights into their extreme pressure and engagement policy, and what role China plays in the situation.

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Korea’s Role in Regional Financial Cooperation

September 21st, 2017

36374902694_d2394baf66_k.jpgThe Global Financial Crisis highlighted the importance of international coordination to prevent, manage, and resolve financial crises. To this end, global institutions such as the G20 and IMF have garnered significant attention, but complementary institutions at the regional level also play an important role. Though it may not be the largest economy in these initiatives, South Korea has increasingly played a central role in their advancement, such as the Chiang Mai Initiative Multilateralization and ASEAN+3 Macroeconomic Research Office.


In this episode, KEI's Kyle Ferrier sits down with Ramon Pacheco Pardo, a Senior Lecturer in International Relations and Co-director of the London Asia Pacific Centre for Social Science King's College London, to discuss the central role Korea plays in East Asian financial institutions.

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The Debate over Video Game Addiction

September 15th, 2017

3097079659_c9d7c04822_b.jpgWith the increasing prevalence and acceptance of video games and e-sports has also come an increasing concern about potential negative side effects of spending too much time playing video games. From the debate over violent games causing real violence to the concerns about kids becoming addicted to their favorite game, these concerns are nothing new. But the debate continues in the scientific community about whether video game addiction even technically exists and, if it does, how to diagnose it.


Seoul-based science journalist Mark Zastrow has looked into this debate both in the United States and in Korea. In this episodes, he shares what he has learned about the different ways each country approaches video game addiction - and what they are doing about it.


Image from Joop's photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

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Creating Consensus on KORUS

September 8th, 2017

Cargo-container-by-Port-of-Tacoma.jpgEntering into effect in 2012, the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement (KORUS FTA) has brought benefits for both the United States and South Korea. But the Trump Administration recently called for a review of the agreement, even going so far as to suggest that the United States may withdraw from KORUS altogether.


To shed some light on the complicated details of KORUS and the U.S.-Korea trade defecit, Korean Kontext host Jenna Gibson sat down with three KEI experts specializing in economics and trade. They discuss the background of the free trade agreement, why President Trump is opposed to it, and how political considerations may sink a good trade deal.


Image from Port of Tacoma's photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

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[Rebroadcast] How to Write About North Korea

August 31st, 2017

jean_lee_hr_0_2.jpgMany of the news stories about North Korea that make their way into the Western media fall into one of two categories: 1) breaking news about provocations and the nuclear crisis or 2) look at the crazy thing Kim Jong Un did today. As a journalist who covered the DPRK from both Seoul and Pyongyang, Jean Lee is working to get past the caricatures that often make their way into how we see North Koreans. 


Jean, who is now a Global Fellow at the Wilson Center, is here in DC for an event she organized about this very topic. The seminar features journalists, novelists and historians who all face unique challenges in gathering information and writing about the DPRK. She agreed to sit down with us while here in town to give us a preview of the roundtable, which took place on December 7, 2016 at the Wilson Center.


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

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[Rebroadcast] Behind the Scenes of South Korea’s Space Program

August 24th, 2017

Pinkstonpodcast_2.jpgWith 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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[Rebroadcast] Kevin O’Donnell: National Director of Peace Corps

August 17th, 2017

In this episode from 2011, we spoke with Kevin O'Donnell, who, after decades on a private sector career path, became the first-ever Peace Corps country director for South Korea, followed by a term as national director of the Peace Corps. Mr. O'Donnell shares with us his accounts of moving to Korea for the first time, some of the challenges he faced during a budget crisis, and the relationship between the Peace Corps and its host nations.

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Keeping up with North Korea

August 10th, 2017

Composite_Kim_Trump.jpgThe last month has seen two North Korean ICBM tests, a new round of UN sanctions, and threats exchanged between Washington and Pyongyang. To catch up on the latest developments from the Korean Peninsula and try to make sense of some of the rhetoric that has been coming out of the Trump Administration, three members of the KEI staff sat down with Korean Kontext host Jenna Gibson for this episode of the podcast. 


Mark Tokola, KEI's vice president, Troy Stangarone, our senior director, and Kyle Ferrier, director of academic affairs and research, discuss a variety of topics related to North Korea, including the difference between a preventative strike and a pre-emptive one, possibilities for the use of cyber attacks, and some of the strengths and weaknesses of the new UN sanctions.


Photos from the U.S. Coast Guard and Prachatai on flickr Creative Commons.

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Korean Study Abroad on the Decline?

August 4th, 2017

20170623_145808.jpgAfter more than a decade as the number three sender of foreign students to the United States, last year South Korea dropped to number four, after several years of declining enrollments. Why, after years of sending tens of thousands of students of all ages to study in the United States, are Koreans less keen on coming to the U.S.?


To answer this question, Korean Kontext host Jenna Gibson sat down with education expert Vincent Flores, EducationUSA's Regional Educational Advising Coordinator (REAC) for Northeast Asia and the Pacific, who is based in Seoul. Flores shares some of his thoughts on why the numbers are dropping, and also gives some insights into what EducationUSA and American colleges and universities are doing to try to reverse this trend.

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Should the U.S. be concerned about Chinese-North Korean relations?

July 28th, 2017

35570246025_119d78479d_k.jpgAs North Korea's largest trading partner and political ally, China is a crucial factor in any potential solution to curb North Korea's weapons programs. President Trump expressed hope earlier this year that China would help in the U.S.'s effort to restrain North Korea, which he would later tweet that it had "not worked out." How important is China to North Korea, and what does this mean for the national security of the U.S. and its Pacific allies? What measures can be taken to encourage China's cooperation in dealing with North Korea's nuclear program?


On this week’s episode, we spoke with Gordon Chang, author of The Coming Collapse of China and Nuclear Showdown: North Korea Takes on the World, about China and North Korea’s relationship and what it means for the future of U.S. and South Korean national security.


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Learning Korean and Supporting Seniors: SAY’s Two in One Model of Teaching

July 21st, 2017

Founded in 2014, Korean startup SAY (Seniors and Youth) is a Korean tutoring company with a social mission behind their work - helping Korean retirees find meaningful work. To do this, they have set up a company that connects young foreigners who are eager to learn the Korean language with older Koreans who are eager to share their time and experience.


In this episode, Korean Kontext host Jenna Gibson sits down with two of SAY's founders, Yongmin Cho and Quan Nguyen, to discuss the origins behind the company, their social mission, and how Korean learners can benefit from their lessons.


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Colonel Edward Forney and the Hungnam Evacuation

July 14th, 2017

DSC_0014.jpgIn December 1950, while fighting the advancing Chinese army and bitter Korean winter, Colonel Edward Forney and other American and Korean officers managed to evacuate all troops as well as 100,000 North Korean refugees out of the port city of Hungnam. 


Now, 67 years later, Colonel Forney's grandson, Ned Forney, was invited to Washington, DC to take part in a ceremony at the National Marine Corps Museum's new memorial for those who faught in the Chosin Reservoir battle that made the Hungnam Evacuation possible. The ceremony was part of the recent visit by new President Moon Jae-In, whose parents were among the refugess saved by Colonel Forney during the evacuation.


In this episode, Ned discusses the history of the evacuation, his grandfather's role, and President Moon's personal connection to this story.

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A Discussion with Charlie Rangel, Former Congressman and Korean War Veteran

July 7th, 2017

KEI_-_KWAR_HILL-1028.jpgOn June 26, a day after the 67th anniversary of the start of the Korean War, KEI hosted an event on Capitol Hill to honor three current and former members of Congress who are veterans of the conflict in Korea. One of them was former Congressman Charlie Rangel of New York, who fought in several major battles in Korea, earning a Purple Heart, the Bronze Star with Valor, and three battle stars.


While in Washington for the reception, Rangel sat down with KEI President Donald Manzullo, who served with Rangel in the House of Representatives for many years. In this episode, the two discuss Rangel's time fighting in Korea, his thoughts about how far South Korea has come since he first arrived there in 1950, and his service in Congress.

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Going Together to the Twenty-First Century: U.S.-Korea Cooperation on Science and Technology

June 29th, 2017

34352885680_135d8ef96e_k.jpgWith this week's summit between American President Donald Trump and Korean President Moon Jae-In, it's worth looking back at one of the major positive outcomes from the previous U.S.-ROK summit - a joint statement on "New Frontiers of Cooperation," highlighting areas of science and technology for future U.S.-Korea cooperation. From cybersecurity to clean energy, then-Presidents Obama and Park agreed to push forward together on a variety of science and tech projects.


Now, a year on and two new presidents later, how have the two countries been doing on these projects? And what will science and technology cooperation look like under these new administrations? Sean Connell, Director of Business Recruitment at the Economic Development Alliance of Skagit County in Washington State, shares his thoughts on this week's episode of Korean Kontext.

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How do American News Outlets Cover Korea?

June 21st, 2017

DSC_9042.jpgNorth Korea is no stranger to news headlines in America. The provocative actions of the secretive nation have made them a prime target for constant media coverage stateside. On the other hand, South Korea often gets overshadowed by the North in American news despite being an important economic and security partner. 

In this special episode, we talk with Korean Kontext host Jenna Gibson about how North and South Korea are covered in U.S. media outlets and the implications for public awareness of Korean issues in America. Jenna recently traveled to South Korea to present at the World Congress for Korean Politics to present her research, and we discuss the findings from her media content analysis. 

Image from Korea Economic Institute of America.

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Prepping for PyeongChang: Looking Ahead to the Winter 2018 Olympics

June 14th, 2017

32280775730_45dcb4dc15_k.jpgIn February 2018, the South Korean city of PyeongChang will play host to the 2018 Winter Olympic Games. With less than a year to go, Korea has been hard at work preparing for the big event, making sure fans from around the world feel welcome in PyeongChang.


Recently, host Jenna Gibson sat down with two officials involved in the planning for the Olympics. In this episode, Ok Hee Kang, Executive Vice President of the International Tourism Promotion Division at the Korea Tourism Organization, and Sunny Kim, Head of the Key Client Team for the Organising Committee for Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018, both share their perspectives on how the preparation are going so far and how American fans can get involved.

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Visit Korea: American Tourism to South Korea on the Rise

June 5th, 2017

DSC_0554.jpgIn 2016, the number of American tourists visiting South Korea grew 12 percent, continuing a trend of slow but steady growth over the last few years. What is making more Americans curious about travelling to Korea? And what kinds of activities are they doing once they get there? 


In this episode, Korean Kontext host Jenna Gibson sits down with Sung Kim of the Korea Tourism Organization's New York office to discuss recent trends in tourism to Korea, and how they are trying to encourage more Americans to visit the Land of the Morning Calm.


Photo by Jenna Gibson, KEI.

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Discussion with North Korean Defectors

May 26th, 2017

hqdefault.jpgIn this special episode of Korean Kontext, KEI's Juni Kim sat down with three North Korean defectors who have settled in South Korea. Each of them has a different story of life in the DPRK, escape, and eventual resettlement in the South.


In this episode, they discuss their stories, including their experiences obtaining outside information while living in North Korea and what it's like to be sent back and imprisoned for trying to escape the country. They also discuss a bit about what it's like adjusting to life in South Korea.


These three defectors were in Washington, DC as part of a program sponsored by Woorihana and No Chain. They spoke at KEI on May 2, and the video of the event can be found on YouTube by clicking here.

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Talking Trilateral: U.S.-South Korea-Japan Relations

May 18th, 2017

34308267335_0562adbb3c_k.jpgIn the past decade, South Korea-Japan relations have seen several periods of hightened tension. At the same time, the two countries, along with their ally the United States, have faced an increasingly threatening posture from North Korea, leading to renewed calls for deeper trilateral cooperation.


This week's guest, CSIS Pacific Forum Executive Director Brad Glosserman, is an expert on trilateral relations between these three countries, which he explored in his book "The Japan-South Korea Identity Clash: East Asian Security and the United States."


With new administrations in Seoul and Washington, along with continued provocations from Pyongyang, will we see a breakthrough in triateral cooperation between these three partners? And what role does national identity play in maintaining (and possibly moving past) the current stalemate?

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President Moon Jae-In Takes Office in Seoul

May 10th, 2017

On May 10, former human rights lawyer Moon Jae-In officially became the next president of South Korea, filling an office that had been empty since former President Park Geun-Hye's impeachment earlier this year. Moon, who is from the progressive Minjoo Party, has indicated he may make some major changes in South Korea's foreign policy, particularly when it comes to engagement with Pyongyang.


Here to discuss the new administration and their approach to foreign policy is Dr. Choi Kang. Dr. Choi is Vice President for Research at The Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul. He sat down with host Jenna Gibson to talk about his expectations for President Moon's policy toward North Korea, how he will navigate the relationship with President Donald Trump, and how domestic constraints may affect his administration.

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Addressing Continuity in South Korean Foreign Policy

May 4th, 2017

The upcoming presidential election in Korea on May 9th will place many key issues under the microscope. One meriting serious consideration that has featured less prominently in the political discourse is continuity in foreign policy. Korean policy-making processes empower each president to make their own mark on Korea’s foreign outreach, and simultaneously make it difficult to maintain initiatives from the previous administration. Constitutional reform is one of several changes that could help lessen the impact of leadership transitions on international priorities.


In this episode, we sit down with Dr. Jeffrey Robertson, an assistant professor at Yonsei University and a Visiting Fellow at Australia National University, to discuss the importance of maintaining continuity through multiple presidential administrations. 

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North Korea Sanctions: The View from South Korea

April 24th, 2017

After the closure of the Kaesong Industrial Complex last year, economic ties between North and South Korea have all but ceased. And as sanctions measures continue to tighten, the international community has chosen to keep exerting greater and greater pressure on the regime in Pyongyang.


Amid tensions on the peninsula, this week's guest sees an opportunity for more "smart" sanctions, those targeted directly at the inner circles of the regime that are less likely to harm the average North Korean. In this episode, Kim Joong-ho, a Researcher at the Export-Import Bank of Korea, shares his thoughts on sanctions from the South Korean perspective, and looks ahead to the possible policies of the new administration that will soon be in place in Seoul.


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[Rebroadcast] Examining the Korean Economy

April 13th, 2017

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


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

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South Korea’s Growing Role in Myanmar

April 7th, 2017

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


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


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


Image from LG전자's photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

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

March 31st, 2017

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


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

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An American Executive in a Korean Chaebol

March 24th, 2017

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


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

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The Chinese Perspective on THAAD

March 17th, 2017

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


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

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Can Information Really Pry Open North Korea?

March 7th, 2017

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


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


Photo from comradeanatolii’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

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

February 28th, 2017

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


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

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

February 21st, 2017

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

February 14th, 2017

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


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

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

February 6th, 2017

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


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


Photo taken by Andrew Le.

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Using Information to Reduce the North Korean Threat

January 30th, 2017

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


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


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


Please click here to learn more and view the report.


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

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

January 23rd, 2017

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


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


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


Korean American Day 2016: Chef Edward Lee

Korean American Day 2015: Olympic Skier Toby Dawson

Actor Daniel Dae Kim


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

January 12th, 2017

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


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

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2017 on the Korean Peninsula

January 6th, 2017

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


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

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Will UN Sanctions Finally Stop North Korea?

December 16th, 2016

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


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


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

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How to Write About North Korea

December 6th, 2016


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


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


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

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