Tuesday, May 15, 2007

My Wikipedia Entry

Hey guys, if you love Korean nationalism and/or World Cup soccer, take a look at my wikipedia entry on the 2002 World Cup under the Case Studies section under Korean Nationlism - unless someone already changed it.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Opinions on North Korea

Awhile ago, I posted on three articles written by a British journalist who attended the Arirang Ceremonies in North Korea. He has also answered some questions written by viewers which have provided an interesting look at the people in North Korea. Mr. Scanlon, the journalist, has been to North Korea multiple times (this year and ten years ago, at least) and has some interesting observations, including that there is basically no rebellious sentiment and that people there think the concept of traveling freely within foreign countries as shocking.

In general, if there's one thing I learned from this class, it is to take North Korea much more seriously, and collect what little information we get from the inside very carefully, as it is probably the best way to form an understanding of the society there, even if no complete understanding of the internal workings will be formed without significant disclosure from within.

I have very much enjoyed this class! Thanks, everyone!

My Wikipedia entry

Let me share with you my experience with Wikipedia. I can't believe it. A few minutes after my first update, the whole section that I added was deleted. I didn't even have the time to print out the updated version. As we are required to hand in a hardcopy of the updated version, I went through all the procedure again, and got a printout. But now the whole section is gone, again.

Of course, I've chosen a very controversial topic. The section I added is titled "Political Connections between Goguryeo and the Chinese Central Plains Dynasties." Through examining a number of the ancient Chinese books, The Book of Jin, The Book of Wei, The Book of Beiqi, The Book of Sui, The Book of Tang, and even Samguk Sagi (Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms), it is evident that, in addition to the almost incessant wars during its existence, Goguryeo also had close political connections with the Chinese Central Plains dynasties, manifested by tribute and the conferring of dynastic titles on Goguryeo kings.

It is just amazing to me that someone constantly monitors this site...

My blog

I added an entry about Korean nationalism in the Dokdo/Takeshima dispute under Korean nationalism. I also started an entry about ethnic nationalism as there was none on that, but considering the fact that its 6:30 a.m. right now and I'm zombied out, I will stop. It's very bare and I talked a little bit about the 2002 World Cup and the Korean response to the VTech shooting. If I'm inspired enough later on this week I'll flesh it out with our readings...

Good night, or good morning everyone...

PS. How do you upload pictures onto the webpage??? I was able to upload the picture but couldn't get it to display on the webpage. After 20 minutes of trying I gave up. Some advice would be appreciated! Thanks!

6 Party Talks Wikipedia Entry

Here is my Wikipedia contribution: an update of the latest round of the 6 Party Talks. I actually made some minor changes to my original edit and ended up with an edit conflict, so hopefully that final final version will show up in a few days. The only difference is a few more internal Wiki links and a few spelling corrections.

Thank you all for a great blog and a great class. It was great to study and discuss the issues with all of you. If you'd like to keep it up, check out the Next Generation Asian Studies Forum and shoot me an e-mail to sign up! It should pick up shortly now that finals are winding down.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Wikipedia entry

In the ultimate irony, here is my version of the Songun (military-first) site, which I edited today. Apologies to snowume for redoing it, but, in my defense, when we discussed it in class, this has always been what I've said I was covering. I hope you printed out and/or saved your editing for the site.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Wiki entry

here is my Wiki entry for Songun, Military First Policy. I hope it provides information on concept, which we did not touch on in class. Thanks.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Solipsistic Note from the Blogosphere

As a final post, I just wanted to say how much I enjoyed this class. It was great alienati--I mean talking with all of you openly about controversial issues in a perfectly calm and rational way.

I'm a little ambivalent about the blogging, though, since I find that, as perfectionist, I'm frustrated at the the tension between polishing my work and "dashing off" something quickly in the spirit of blogging. (Note to Prof. Larsen: when I say I'm a perfectionist in writing, this means I feel compelled to spend a long time anguishing over it, not that I can't manage to mispell "Goguryeo" ad nauseum).

So I'm leaving you with a note from the "Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy" movie soundtrack, "On Blogging":

Blog·ging - Blogging is the act of regularly updating your website with some humdrum information about your life or a link to something you just read on the internet in the mistaken belief that anyone actually cares.

It is the 21st century equivalent of hanging around railway stations, writing pithy but erudite descriptions of the passing trains. To take part in "blogging" or to use the appropriate terminology "to join the blogosphere" there are a couple of things you need to do. Firstly, you'll need to increase the size of your ego. Without a swollen ego you simply cannot achieve the levels of solipsism required by a modern blog. This necessary step is often missed by new bloggers, yet without it, you won't believe that anyone is remotely interested in what you've had for lunch today, how cute your cat Mittens is, or whether or not you designed some tedious internet protocol.

In fact blogging without a nova-sized ego can actually be dangerous. If you start using words like blogosphere there is a very real possibility that your own major intestine will leap straight up through your neck and throttle your brain in an attempt to preserve civilization. Fortunately there are various forms of medication to increase the size of your ego, many offering a money back guarantee that you will be at least twice as obnoxious in four weeks or less.

Until you are sufficiently obnoxious, you might feel the need to explain or at the very least describe the things you leap to. Experienced bloggers know that they are so important that readers will blindly follow their links. After all, a few seconds of one blogger's time is clearly more valuable than all the time spent by people discovering they really didn't care. The other thing you should do to become a successful blogger, is change your website to use dotted lines and unreadable tiny fonts, wherever possible.

Have a great rest of the semester, everyone!

Feminism and Partying

So you have to be a guy to get somewhere in the South Korean business world, which means you have to drink a LOT. But aren't women not supposed to drink as much as men?

A woman in South Korea has won damages from her boss, who coerced her to drink into 3am several nights a week to entertain clients.
It's a violation of human dignity to force one to drink against his or her will," Judge Kang-Young-ho was quoted as saying by the Associated Press (AP).
Her employer, according to AP, once threatened he would get a male colleague to kiss her if she did not take part in the drinking sessions. He also pressured her to drink when she was suffering from stomach problems, the agency reported.

Macao Bank "Scapegoat"

Here's that article I mentioned in class about the Macao bank being upset at the US for hanging them out to dry on the DPRK funds issue. Well, that's its opinion anyway.

It has submitted a petition against Treasury. Here's what it claims:

Delta Asia Group, parent company of BDA, released a copy of the 19-page petition filed with the Treasury last week by U.S. lawyer Mary Ellen Powers on behalf of Au and the group.
At the end of an 18-month investigation, the Treasury concluded that BDA turned a blind eye to illicit activities but decided to release the funds to Pyongyang to facilitate the stalled six-way denuclearization talks.

"(Releasing the funds) is inconsistent with any claim that the funds were actually the proceeds of illicit activities," Powers said in the petition.

"During a congressional hearing, (U.S. Deputy Assistant Treasury Secretary) Daniel Glaser refused to characterize the funds as 'ill-gotten gains' of illegal activity," she added.

Powers said the Treasury's ruling was simply aimed at sending a signal to the international financial community.

"Glaser admitted in his congressional testimony that (the Treasury) had singled out one small bank and imposed extraordinary sanctions with no warning in order to scare the financial community," she said in the petition.

Powers quoted former senior U.S. State Department official David Asher as saying BDA was just an "easy target" and that the ruling aimed to "kill the chicken to scare the monkey."

Kim Il-Sung Poems Rediscovered!

Tired of the same old songs to the Great Leader? Wish there were more? Well, now there's an exciting new sensation--reaching out from the 1930s!

The article, which is worth reading in full, says that "tens" of poems declaring the greatness of Kim Il-Sung that had been "widely disseminated" have been "discovered" in the DPRK. Then, in the next paragraph, says that they were discovered in northeastern China, in the "main military and political theatres of the Korean People's Revolutionary Army (KPRA)."

And, although all we have are written documents just discovered that no one noticed were missing before, the article states that they were "handed down orally by the people."

This is the best part:

They truthfully reflect the undying exploits performed by the President for the liberation of the country, political and military might of the KPRA and the great joy of the then people in attending him as the sun of the nation.
Who is he, Louis XIV? Anyway, here's a song list:

"Kim Il-so'ng [Kim Il Sung] Makes an Appearance in Korea"
"The Sun of the Korean People"
"Mt. Changbai Soaring High in Sky"
"Snow Flies"
"Let's Create Plum Tree Woods"
"Spring Water Brings up Heroes"
"Commander Kim Comes"
"Giant Footprint"
"Giddap! Let Cow take Mountain Path! "
"Mother Presents Roe Deer Leather"
"Song to Accompaniment of Hand-Clapping".

Korean Conscription Policy

I wish I could have joined you for the dinner, but I had to come home and study for the comprehensive exam.

We talked a bit about the role of military service in Korea. I actually did some comparative research in Taiwan and Seoul last summer (with the support of the Sigur Center). I posted a summary of my findings in my own blog in case you are interested.
Conscription Policy (1) Taiwan
Conscription Policy (2) South Korea
Conscription Policy (3) Differences
Conscription Policy (4) Possible Hypotheses


Many friends of mine have considered me as a Korean nationalist with strong nationalism. Politically speaking, of course, I don't consider me as a nationalist but I know that nationalism rooted deeply in myself often provokes me. Those readings explained why a person called "me" gets provoked and becomes nationalist. mobilization during the 2002 world cup was shown as a good example of Korean nationalism. It was also compared to mobilization during the democratization movement in 1980s. I believe that Korean history itself accumulates as factors and reasons, leading Korean people to mobilize easier. War taught Koreans how to go out to fulfil their purpose, and democratization movement showed people how to appeal to the power. These lessons and experiences formed as a Korean identity, which in turn impacted on forming Korean nationalism.

When do Koreans feel nationalism? despite total personal opinions, I think our Koreans feel nationalism whenever we feel inferiority. Readings provided key influences forming Korean nationalism such as war, colonialism, and imperialism, and so on. Koreans have victimized themselves and seemed to overcome inferior complexity through superior complexity, which was made artificially. The superior complexity plays as nationalism.

The Korean-American football star, who never looks like Korean, is Korean who can present "Korean superiority". The Korean -American golf star is also Korean (hanguk in) to Koreans, not Korean-American (hangukgye). There are countless examples, showing Koreans' tendency.

In this context, I think globalization would not affect Koreans' unique nationalism or Korean identity too much. Koreans will categorize Koreans abroad or Korean ethnics or mixed Koreans based on their success.

Following the Glorious Example of Comrade Sayaka...

Here's my Wikipedia assignment: an addition to the entry for Yongsan Garrison. It's the section entitled "Demonstrations at Yongsan Garrison."

Questions and (gentle) comments are welcome!

See you all tonight.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Thoughts on Korean Nationalism

Hi class,

I'm posting some thoughts on the readings and on the topic of Korean nationalism more generally here to contribute to class discussion in my absence.

Influences on the form of Korean nationalism
In an attempt to tie all the reading together, there seemed to be a few key influences on the formation of nationalism generally that applied to the case of Korea: colonialism, imperialism, war, external security threats, economic development and globalization. Specifically in the case of Korea, colonization by Japan, imperialism by the US, the Korean war (with its civil and international components and its ambiguous "ending"), developmentalism under the Park era in the ROK, juche in the DPRK and globalization. Although Tan'Gun and Hangul are unique symbols of Korea that have been appropriated in the creation of Korea's national identity, unique symbols of all countries are used to unify individuals under a political definition of "nation."

Demographic and geographic factors also contributed to the formulation of Korean nationalism. The territory of the Korean peninsula and ethnic homogeneity enabled a strong sense of cultural “Koreaness” to develop before the introduction of the concept of Korea as a nation. I don’t particularly agree with the conception of Korea as primordial nation, however, I do think these demographic and geographic factors made it very easy for the constructed idea of the Korean nation that emerged during the Choson dynasty to take root (especially because key unifying symbols and concepts existed).

Of all the authors, Moon is the most critical of convergence of these forces, particularly the role of developmentalism, in the conception of Korean national identity:
“Nationalism as a way to legitimize repressions and exploitation of the populace throughout the process. Industrialization as a national project gained priority in the postwar period of economic development. The reality of the Cold War has also shaped nationalist rhetoric, which touts “the building of a prosperous and strong Korean nation.” Specifically, the issue of national defense has become crucial to state nationalism in Korea, due to the unique experience of the Korean War and the continuing military confrontation between North and South. The effectiveness of state nationalism depends upon the collective memory of Japanese colonization and the Korean war, as well as on popular recognition of neo-colonial aspects of the American military and strategic dominance in Korea and Korean’s technological and economic dependence upon the United States and Japan” (34).

Ethnic nationalism: "dangerous, discursive & destructive," a potential force for reunification, or counter to colonialism?
The KBS survey Shin (and Larsen) cites, indicating that 68.2% of Koreans view "blood" as the most important criteria of the Korean nation, ties in well with Schmid's discussion of the role of Koreans abroad in maintaining a sense of Korean identity under Japanese colonial rule. It is easy to see that under a colonial power, one key differentiating factor (that fits within the cultural emphasis on lineage) was Korean ethnicity.

While watching the DPRK documentary, Professor Larsen commented on the appearance of clearly Korean and completely alien aspects. Despite the divergent courses of national identity development (juche and developmentalism), salient features of "Koreaness" exist. Given the completely different political or civil conceptions of national identity and citizenship in the ROK and DPRK, ethnic nationalism could be the only feasible integrative option in the case of reunification. Moreover, I find the current political or civil conception of nationalism in the US(since the US deals with ethnic diversity, I would argue the form of national identity must be constructed of civil values) problematic and ultimately "destructive" and "dangerous."

One key function of nationalism is its ability to unite individuals under a political identity. In the case of the US, a national myth of accepting diversity exists (i.e. "melting pot"). As South Korea is increasingly affected by globalization (and particularly immigration) it will be interesting to see how the conception of Korean identity develops - if it will adopt more of a civic or political tone or if ethnic nationalism will become stronger. Although ethnic nationalism, combined with developmentalism, was a profound mobilizing force and would be easy continue unifying and motivating Koreans for generations, I can see the use of Korea's accomplishment of democratization and emergence of civil society as a way to change the conception to a more civic tone. For example, civic groups in Kwangju (that have emerged as Korean civil society has developed in the last twenty years) focus on the city's image as a "Mecca for democracy."

Mechanisms of transmitting and inculcating nationalism
What particularly interested me in the Jager piece was how she linked the abstract notion of Korean nationalism with various mechanisms that "make" Korean citizens. Although I didn't see Foucault mentioned in any of the chapters we read, the discussion of Saemul Undong particularly reminded me of Foucault's discussions of the "technologies of the self" in Discipline and Punish: the Birth of Prison. Jager describes the socialization process through which farmers are transformed away from the influence of sadaejuui and into independent, productive and patriotic modern citizens and workers through a regimen that combined rigid schedules and exercise with patriotic rituals. This ideal of the patriotic farmer/worker was further incentivized through the Saemaul Prize, which connected national heroism to work.

Military conscription is a another process, referenced as a significant contributing factor but not as thoroughly described by Moon, through which Korean citizenship is inculcated through directly connecting physical activities, schedules, regimens, and signals with a highly developed national purpose. As Moon argues that this participation reinforces a militarized Korean national identity that further asserts patriarchy; men are active participants and women are relegated to the domestic sphere by lack of this opportunity to participate.

Jager's symbolic analysis of the War Memorial provides insight into another mechanism socializing visitors towards a particular conception of Korean national identity. Like our discussion of textbooks earlier in the semester, although the are no measurements of pre-War Memorial visit thoughts on Korean nationalism and post-War Memorial feelings of patriotism and it is hard to say that the particular conception of Korean nationalism presented resonates similarly with all visitors, it is a valuable indicator of one state sanctioned conception of national identity with socializing capabilities. It is the active participatory aspect of visiting, seeing, pledging and interacting with state sanctioned symbols that, I think, inculcates a sense of pride in the Korean military and the Korean nation and further asserts the state's construction of national identity. This is especially evident in Jager's discussion of visitors being able to touch weapons and the exhibition manual that explicates how visitors are to connect their visit with actions to patriotism: “The aim of the War Memorial is to become a place where people can go to pledge themselves to the dream of realizing national unification by learning form our heroes and from their pride and love of country” (125). Moreover, the War Memorial simultaneously sanctifies and makes the ideal of sacrifice for Korea accessible through the "One Hero per Month" exhibit which seeks to forge a "homogeneous and continuous national subject who is both unique and yet ordinary, distinct yet indistinguishable” (123).

Gender, Agency, Participation and National Identity
As Moon offers hope for Korean women to emerge from self and socially-ascribed relegation to the domestic sphere, Jager’s conclusion of the new idea of Korean masculinity based on Kim Dae Jung’s example of endurance and forgiveness as legitimate and powerful offers an alternative to the previous militarized option of masculinity. Hopefully the new model of masculinity identified by Kim, with the emerging sense of agency for Korean women, will extend a sense of agency for individuals to construct their own identity as Korean citizens – male and female.

On a final note, I can't help but think my view of Morocco is somehow seen through the lens of Korean nationalism. Which, has actually made for some interesting comparisons, particularly regarding (colonial & post-colonial) language policy and the impact of the colonial power on the education system (the French and Spanish really did not build schools in Morocco, let alone impose a blueprint for an education system, which is making me reconsider the validity of Carter Eckert's suggestion of the Japanese contributions to Korea's development.)

Friday, May 04, 2007

The Fate of BDA

There has been some comment in the media about a South Korean takeover of Banco Delta Asia in response to its impending bankruptcy. Yonhap article, and blog comments from dprkstudies.

We'll have to see for sure, but I stand by my earlier assessment that BDA would go under one way or another.

Does this story belong in the irony column?

An Interesting Interpretation of North Korea

Because I'm kind of cruel to myself, and I have a bizarre desire to read things that make me frustrated, I picked up the entirety of Bruce Cumings book North Korea: Another Country in the library. OK, so it was also for research for my nationalism class because I needed someone who liked North Korea. And he does. But I read most of the rest of it and was... surprised.

Cumings spends significant amounts of time berating not only the US government but also the US population for forgetting about Korea and subsequently ignoring it. How could, he wonders, the US society simply forget about all the horrible things they did in Korea? (Because, maybe, we've done that and more in other places? And we don't think about that either?) He, as we read, accuses the US government of racism, stupidity, and cruelty.

However, for me, the hardest part to swallow was Cumings' discussion of life in North Korea. He does make the point that their rhetoric is difficult to swallow and overwhelming every part of life, that their belief that juche and Kim's philosophies will solve everything are ridiculous. But he goes on to describe how wonderful Pyongyang is. It's very clean. The people are orderly, humble, unassuming, honorable, and kind. They are so wonderfully traditional, family values are everywhere, young people don't even hold hands, let alone have premarital sex. He emphasizes their triumph over a slave-holding, class stratified society. He praises how they held on to Confucian values so strongly, that they have created a "family state". They have modern conveniences without any of the evil, awful corruption of modern society. They are egalitarian, with a very small elite ruling over a country where everyone else is equal. The people in North Korea are everything traditional Koreans should be. Even people in South Korea look up to their ability to preserve the true Korean nation. It is a modern Utopia. No, seriously, he calls it Utopia. It is perfect, rural, bucolic, serene, and wonderful. OK, yes, the government's a little repressive. But really, it's not Kim Jong Il's fault. He's a nice, sensitive man who is uncomfortable about his body, and really just wants to live a normal life. It's kind of shame about the hair, though. They have succeeded where the South Koreans have failed, in creating an independent state free of outside predatory influences. South Koreans, of course, have been dependent on the US, and cannot compete with the the North's victorious independent course in the world.

Cumings, in his book, equates North Korea's society with a perfect traditional society seeking to preserve itself. The experience of reading it reminded me, strongly, of reading the Japanese history textbooks. When you read them, it seems plausible that what is written is correct, that North Korea really is clean and wonderful, and it's really just because no one understands them that they're so despised. (I mean, really, the ambassadors don't even speak Korean! How could they possibly appreciate the perfection that is North Korea?) And yet, reading it, you also feel something... off. Cumings presents an incredibly one-sided picture of North Korea and seems to miss completely that most of the West's dislike of the country stems from a revulsion to the thought control and lack of rights or freedoms. He spends little time discussing the recent collapses, just mentions them after going into detail how wonderful and successful they were in the 70's and 80's. He completely ignores what, and I'm believing Prof. Larsen here, is a strong class society that DOES dictate how well you do in life. The military is hardly talked about at all. Communism is not the cause of any of their society's controls, it is simply traditional values (ones South Koreans wish they could emulate!) which dictate how the people behave.

In the end, I found the experience rather unnerving, because this is a scholar I've read before, who I know is generally respected, even if there do seem to be two of him. However, after writing a book with dual purposes (I can only assume his goals were to criticize American policy and public memory, as well as "changing our opinions" on the wonderful, Utopian, egalitarian North Korea), he has accomplished neither goal with me. Another review, associated with George Mason University, can be found here. Also, if you go into the comments here, there's an interesting argument by random people about the North vs. the South. There are, despite Cumings' accusations, people who agree with him here in the United States. And here's another, perhaps more respectable one? from the Atlantic.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Technical Question

I see how we can check the number of posts we've written (under "edit posts"), but is there an accurate way to check the number of comments? I've tried searching the site through Google, but I know it's not bringing up all of them. Does anyone have a recommendation?


Drugs in North Korea? I am shocked, shocked.

There's a juicy article today about drug deals among the North Korean elite. It also mentions a certain "underground casino" for foreigners at the Yangkag Hotel in Yyongyang. A Google search on this hotel brings up three links--all referring to this article.

North Korea is supposedly a pusher's dream:

One North Korean tradesman ‘H’ revealed, “Drug dealers con North Koreans with money by saying that the ‘medicine’ clears the head and acts as an aphrodisiac by giving you strength. Then they let the buyers taste-test the drug for free.” H said, “After a few times, the majority of these people become addicted and the dealer sets up a relationship to sell the drug for a long time.”
The article says the drugs are mostly made in the district of Hamheung, but I'm waiting for the North Korean government to finally put two and two together and blame the CIA for all this debauchery.

Problems Learning English in South Korea

Despite South Korea's obsession with learning English, it ranked among the lowest in Asia in ability to use the language, and just dropped to 134th in TOEFL speaking scores worldwide.

I wonder if Korean language learning is a similar experience to what I saw in China. I taught English to several hundred Chinese children--somewhat against my will, like when I was lured under false pretenses and driven two hours outside of Beijing to teach an English lesson (but that's another story). The students were not supposed to have fun when learning English, because the teachers who were my minders believed that staring at textbooks and repeating after the white person was giving the students their money's worth (my Asian-American friend was rejected, incidentally, because he didn't look foreign enough). When I took them outside to play English Simon Says or other games that practiced their speaking ability outside of the classroom, all but one of my minders told me to never do that again.

There were plenty of Chinese teenagers who were not shy at all at forcing an English language lesson on the bus, at Tiananmen Square, or in a restaurant, and, much as I didn't like being a walking dictionary, I have to admit some people in China were good at practicing everyday English.

This article claims that Koreans just aren't practicing the language outside of the classroom, and it's affecting their capability to be competitive in the global market. Why would this be? Are more people there shy? Maybe there aren't as many foreigners around in Seoul? Any ideas?

ROK Abductees

This article brings up an interesting point: with all the hoopla over Japanese abductees, why is no one talking about South Korea's? Obviously, it's because South Korea doesn't want to be shut out of its fragile dialogue with the North through the 6 Party process. But according to this article, the US State Dept. has deleted mention of the 485 ROK abductees in its country report on DPRK this year.

I'm confused, though--when I did a CNTRL+F search on the 2006 Country Report on human rights for the DPRK just released, the statement was there, just like it was in last year's. Did we add it back in or is this paper really not fact-checking?

Silla's US Invasion

The history of Silla's now being taught in the US? That's what thought when I first saw this article, but it seems it's just in an elementary school teaching aid.

According to the Korea Society, on May 1, the world history magazine “Calliope,” which has been used as additional world history reading material for U.S. high school students, covered the history of the Silla Dynasty in the entire 50 pages of its March issue.
It seems a little pathetic to write a whole article on this--who cares if a tiny magazine covers part of Korean history? This quote is also odd:

I thought it would be a good chance to acknowledge Korea and Silla properly through this special edition since Korean ancient history has been inappropriately appraised between Japan and China in the U.S.
Inappropriately appraised? How much do US 'tweens really know about ancient Japanese and Chinese history?

"Disneyland is Too Far"

Okay, this post has nothing to do with Korea, but the contents of this article my friend sent me are so unbelievable/hilarious for the massive and blatant act of piracy they present, I had to share them with you.

Presenting Shijingshan Amusement Park, a fun and exciting themepark in Beijing that's not Disnelyand...seriously...


In a tantalizingly short piece, the May 2007 issue of National Geographic reports that the fossilized remains of the "largest known female ancestor of humans" was discovered "near China's border with North Korea."
"Living 260,000 years ago ...she also 'represents the most northern and eastern zone of human habitation that we know of during the Pleistocene epoch.'"
No mention of the find on the KCNA website (yet).

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Government to Confiscate Land

This Joongang Ilbo article states that the government will confiscate about $6.7 million worth of land from the heirs of Japanese collaborators. The property will then be given to the heirs of independence fighters.

Although nice in theory, this act is alarming to me. Some of the evidence is more than 100 years old, and it is essentially the heirs of the collaborators, who have done nothing wrong, that are being punished. I can only see two possible justifications for this move: either the government thinks it's ok to punish heirs for violations committed by ancestors, or the land decrees are void due to the illegality of the colonization.

The first would be especially troubling because a free society can't allow a person to be punished due to the actions of others unless there is a fiduciary relationship. These acts took place several generations ago so there is no fiduciary duty. Imagine if we could be personally held accountable for the actions of our ancestors over 100 years ago. Where would the chain of liability end? Could it lead to a de facto caste system for these people?

In a weird way, this reminds me of Larry's earlier post on Cho's grandmother taking responsibility for his actions. But one could kind of understand a parent or grandparent being held responsible for a child's actions (although Cho was obviously not a child). We're talking about people being held responsible for the actions of their great great great great grandfather.

If it's the second reason then the government would have to hold all contracts created during the colonial period void. It would also have to prove that the colonization was illegal. This is not only impossible, but would also lead to absolute chaos.


According to a South Korean news report, members of a North Korean youth soccer team had all sorts of questions about life in the South. For example:
"What is the cross for?", one asks, and when told asks again, "What is a church?" The answer seemed to baffle them. When an official explained that many young South Koreans wear glasses because they use computers a lot, one team member said, "In North Korea, only few children and scholars who read lots of books wear glasses."
Take with the requisite usual grains of salt.

On the flip side, at a conference GWU hosted last week, Don Oberdorfer made the claim that one in ten residents of P'yongyang have radio access to the outside (with the number rising as high as 1 in 3 or even 1 in 2 along the border) and many watch DVDs produced in the ROK. He also relayed the account of a visitor to P'yongyang who was approached by a waitress in a hotel who proceeded to ask in hushed tones "Does Madonna really have AIDS?" These developments are seemingly difficult to square with the complete lack of knowledge expressed by the soccer kids. Perhaps the naivete is an act (of self-preservation)?

Tuesday, May 01, 2007


I just noticed this--it happened today (1 May). Did anyone manage to go?

Train: Film & Discussion
Join the CRF and The Institute for Multi-Track Diplomacy (IMTD) for a screening of the award-winning documentary film, Seoul Train which spotlights a harrowing and potentially explosive human rights crisis where a small group works to make a big difference in the lives of desperate refugees. A discussion will follow the movie regarding North Korea Refugees in China. Refreshments provided!

Time: 7:30 pm - 9:00 pm
Location: Lindner Family Commons - 1957 E Street
Sponsor: Conflict Resolution Forum

US Continues To List N. Korea As State Sponsor Of Terrorism

The State Department continues to name N. Korea one of the five alleged state sponsors of terrorism along with Cuba, Iran, Syria and Sudan, despite the Feb.13 six-nation agreement, in which the US says it might eliminate N. Korea from the list. See this article.

Will this Country Reports on terrorism, usually released at the end of April every year by the State Department, affect the ongoing dialogues?

Victor Cha Reveals NSC Time Machine Secret

I'll bet that got your attention. For clarification see my previous post and Prof Larsen's comment.

Some interesting non-development developments in the 6 Party Talks this week. First, the un-frozen BDA funds might actually have a new home/homes. Banks in Russia and Italy, two bastions of clean government and effectively-controlled organized crime, have offered their services to the North, according to this article from the South China Morning Post. Given Professor Larsen's comparison of Kim Jong-Il to a mob boss, I find this development most amusing. Of course, as the issue of where to transfer the money may soon be resolved, the issue of what institution will oversee the transfer emerges as the next obstacle in the road. Stunner...

Also, in other non-news news, the U.S. still considers North Korea to be a state sponsor of terrorism! According to this piece from the JoongAng Daily, the so-called hermit kingdom was included in a report on the subject released Monday. Do not fret though, advocates of engagement, "the process of removing the reclusive nation from the list has started."

It's nice to see that both sides are working hard to make it seem like they're thinking about moving forward with the talks.

In the event that things do start to move forward, the International Crisis Group (ICG) has offered its perspective on where things will/need to go. For those not familiar with ICG, it's an excellent organization that concentrates on "hot spots" for...well...crises. Examples include Taiwan, Kashmir, Afghanistan, and the Korean Peninsula. They publish some outstanding stuff in my opinion, combining thorough reporting with optimistic yet pragmatic analysis.

The latest Korea report is entitled "After the North Korea Nuclear Breakthrough: Compliance or Confrontation?" I haven't had the chance to read through it thoroughly, but it appears to offer a legitimate roadmap for progress. If I get to it soon, I'll post a synopsis.

Sea of Japan controversy

Well, it looks like the Sea of Japan/East Sea conflict is back on the agenda. Apparently there is a meeting on the 7th of the International Hydrographic Organization that will reopen the issue and potentially put it up for vote. Although most of the 78 member countries support the "Sea of Japan" name, Korean officials have vowed to lessen support for this or block the voting.

I personally think this is ridiculous as the article even points out that the "Sea of Japan" name has been used internationally since 1929. As we discussed in class, it may be the "East Sea" from the Korean perspective, but not the Japanese. And, I think Larry(?) pointed it out, without the geographical presence of Japan, there wouldn't even be a "sea" in the first place. I personally hope that this issue IS put up for vote at the IHO and settled once and for all. This is one area in which Korean nationalism has run amok.

Washington Post article on Victor Cha

I came across an interesting article on Victor Cha in the Washington Post this morning, discussing his time in office. He is apparently leaving the NSC for Georgetown, so the article profiles his time in government - what he learned and how he influenced policy, etc. Apparently, he was a big proponent of getting back to the table with Pyongyang in 2006. His "hawk engagement" policy approach seemed to win the support of the president. It's a quick and interesting read. The link is below.

NSC Post a Real-World Lesson for Cha

No Gun Ri wiki entry

I updated the No Gun Ri wikipedia entry. The base article was very detailed already, there were no new major sections for me to add, but the tone of the article was not neutral in the areas where it should have been neutral, such as the background information. There were two competing perspectives to the events at No Gun Ri presented in the entry, the AP argument and the US military argument. The arguments differ in the degree of culpability they put on the US military. It seemed as though much of the entry sided with the US military account, particularly the Bateman argument.

I focused on three things in updating the page:

1) Rewriting sections whose bias in tone was obvious - making the statements more neutral and reordering the evidence presented to give basic facts before delving into the controversial facts.

2) Adding 2 maps (one South Korea map with the No Gun Ri area marked, and one map of the No Gun Ri vicinity, pointing out the rail overpasses and the strafed areas), and 4 area images taken by aerial cameras (the images I showed in class) to provide a visualization to where the events occurred.

3) Expanding the US Army report's section by writing an introductory paragraph and pulling out the five most important key conclusions (from the pagelong list that was there in the initial entry).

One thing I learned about wiki entries - even if they are sourced correctly, they can tell remarkably different stories depending on whose side the author takes. This article was sourced in some places well, and in others not well at all, but regardless it was clear that the author of a majority of the content sided with the US military account.

Any comments or feedback is welcomed!! Thank you =)

Monday, April 30, 2007

Wikipedia entry - 1988 Summer Olympics

Following Sayaka's excellent example, I've just added a section, Significance of the 1988 Olympics in South Korea, to the entry on the 1988 Summer Olympics in Wikipedia. I am still tweaking it, so feel free to provide any suggestions, revise directly on Wikipedia or, as Wikipedia warns, "edit mercilessly."

Related to the topic of the Olympics acting as a catalyst for change in Asia, Amnesty International reported that China is using the 2008 Olympics as a catalyst for suppressing dissent in the name of stability. Moreover, the report contends that China is failing to live up to the promise to improve their record on human rights in anticipation of the Games.

The similarities to the 1988 Olympics in Seoul are quite apparent. In both cases, there is/was increased international scrutiny on the issue of political freedom. In the case of China in 2008, Amnesty International, an external international advocacy group, is pressuring for change; in Korea in 1988, this pressure was primarily coming from a fear of any negative press of military suppression or riots in the domestic democracy movement in June 1987.

The article quotes Catherine Baber, Amnesty's deputy Asia-Pacific director as saying, "The IOC cannot want an Olympics that is tainted with human rights abuses - whether families forcibly evicted from their homes to make way for sports arenas or growing numbers of peaceful activists held under house arrest." Likewise, articles on the impact of the 1988 Seoul Olympics in Korea employ similar language, that Korea and the IOC did not want the 1988 Games "tainted" with military dictatorship and riots.

It will be interesting to observe the role of the the Olympics in China's development over the course of the next year to see if a trend of the Olympics instigating political and social change in Asia emerges.

professor decided not to be a President

Former SNU chief drops out of race. Chung Un Chan, former SNU President, declared his decision not to participate in presidential election. As he stated, his lack of political expertise and supporters pulled him out of race for the election. Personally, I believe that he made a smart choice.
Although a number of articles criticized reality of politics in Korea, a lack of political experience would not suffice to lead a country. Of course, it is also true that Lee and Park from hanara dang do not have sufficient experiences, either.
I just hope that another version of the Roh administration is not born.

Jaebol (zaibatsu) or Mafia?

I know the title for this is very extreme. As a father of a son, Kim, the CEO for Hanhwa Group, seems to involve in bar brawl. Here is a link to the article, Hanwha boss queried over bar brawl.
Since I have been away from schools in Korea, I can't represent Korean attitude toward this type of fight. Yet, our mothers and fathers usually do not encourage their kids to revenge or fight back. I was taught that "Kids are growing while fighting."
Kim is not only an influential figure in Korea but also wealthy person, who can solve the issue through law. Regardless of what happened, I do not understand why this guy got bloody and dirty hands by himself.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Bush accepts Abe's apology?

This NY Times article addresses the impact of Prime Minister Abe’s visit to Washington on the “comfort women” resolution. Abe’s language “apologizing” for wartime sexual enslavement especially to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, has received attention for obfuscating the issue.

Specifically, Abe said he had “deep-hearted sympathies that the people who had to serve as comfort women were placed in extreme hardships” and expressed his “apologies for the fact that they were placed in that sort of circumstance.”

On the nature of Abe’s “apology,” Professor Mochizuki is quoted in the article, saying “If he wanted to be clear in his response, he could have phrased it differently….What Abe said does not acknowledge the issue of coercion, so those insisting on a clear admission of responsibility won’t be satisfied with that. I don’t think he’s changed anyone’s mind with his remarks.”

What was especially interesting (or a bit audacious in my humble opinion) was Bush’s acceptance of Abe’s “apology.” Like Representative Honda is quoted as saying in the article, my question is: how can President Bush accept Abe’s apology? He was not coerced into sexual slavery to the Japanese military nor is he asking for an official apology, so how can he accept Abe’s “apology”?

This leads to procedural question, if the non-binding House resolution requiring an official government apology passes, is there any measure the Senate or the Executive Branch can take to counteract it? Even if it doesn’t pass, since it’s non-binding, hasn’t the attention given to the issue accomplished a large part of the goal? Moreover, was Bush’s acceptance a way to maintain his good ties with Abe and with the nationalist contingent in the current Japanese government more generally given the attention to this controversial issue in HR 121? Was Bush’s acceptance of the apology an adequate means through which Abe could placate his nationalist base?

Given the recent acknowledgement of coercion (albeit in the rejection of compensation claims filed by former “comfort women”) as “historical fact” (the “ ” are for you Larry), it will be interesting to see how this issue continues to develop and on what grounds Abe will continue to be able to deny official involvement.

For one gauge of the South Korean opinion regarding the Abe-Bush visit, this JoongAng Daily editorial claims that Abe obfuscated the comfort women issue (despite the recent Supreme Court acknowledgement of coercion as "historical fact"), while the real motivation behind his meeting with Bush was to link the North Korean nuclear issue with the Japanese abductions.

In addition to eating hamburgers and securing an invitation to President Bush’s ranch, Abe concluded his US visit with a stop at Arlington National Cemetery. This caught my attention in light of the Yasukuni issue. In many ways Arlington parallels Yasukuni (although I forget the exact language, the last time I visited Arlington, I was struck by the signage denoting the cemetery as “America’s Shrine to Freedom”). However, one argument that I have heard is that Japan lacks a neutral venue to celebrate patriotism. Yasukuni is one of the few symbolic places that is at all patriotic (unfortunately, this conception of patriotism is highly charged and incredibly offensive to Japan's former colonies). I wonder if this is somehow laying the foundation for Abe's first state visit to Yasukuni in August. Or, if it's just something he wanted to see while in Washington. Or, if he was getting ideas for a constructing a new nationalistic monument.

F-22 Raptor Sales

Several news agencies have been reporting on the possibility of selling 100 F-22 Raptors to Japan. The reaction from Korea is one of skepticism. From the Korean perspective, this would create instability in East Asia by giving Japan air superiority over China and Korea. I also think that, coupled with the gradual reduction of U.S. troops in Korea, it will appear to weaken the U.S.-Korea security alliance. The Korean air force currenty uses F-15's, which are like a million years old (actually, about 35, but that's still old).

But from the U.S. perspective, this sale makes a lot of sense. First, these planes don't come cheap (over $300 million each). The original plan was for the U.S. to purchase over 700 of them, but that number was drasticaly reduced during the Clinton years and I think the plan now is to purchase less than 200. So this sale will make up for much of the loss to the sweet tune of $30 billion. And second, this will strengthen security relations with what is arguably our second most important ally. There are concerns over exporting such high tech weaponry, but I would assume that the models sold to Japan wouldn't contain the most secret technology so they would be getting the "Diet" models of these fighters anyway.

From what I can tell, these fighters are AMAZING. Their main asset is their stealth technology, which means that they can shoot down enemy planes before they're detected. Tests indicate that they will absolutely destroy the current fighters on the market, and you would only need a couple of them to wipe out entire squadrons of enemy fighters.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

South Korean politicians consumed by the upcoming presidential elections

According to this Yonhap piece, many South Korean citizens and citizen groups have criticized politicians for their lack of response and general inaction to the increased nationalism in Japan. Apparently, South Korean politicians are too busy with the upcoming presidential election that no one can or is willing to do anything about Abe's remarks denying government responsibility in coercing "comfort women" and new Japanese textbooks that gloss over wartime history and claim Dokdo as Japanese territory. This is especially notable given the U.S. political attention to these issues.

On the one hand, it seems that in the recent past, South Korean politicians have initiated political action to spur anti-Japanese sentiment, by protesting with the surviving comfort women at the Japanese embassy, releasing names of collaborators, adopting resolutions condemning Tokyo -- but all to little avail. Given the hegemonic power of Japan, little more could have been done without international attention from an even bigger power.

Still, I can agree with the comment from Chae Soo-young of the Citizens Forum for Comfort Women, that it is "shameful that our parliament did not have any resolution carried out when the resolution is expected to be adopted in the United States, where there is no direct sufferer."

The article comments that "with less than nine months to the presidential poll, parties are increasingly engrossed in attacking each other or regrouping to form a group with better chances of an election victory." Given how these contentious issues with Japan are deeply ingrained in the public consciousness, I'm a bit surprised at how politicians have not utilized these hot-button issues as a mechanism to gain popular support.

On another note, this article reminded me of Aaron Sorkin's wisdom in The American President, when Micheal Douglas, as President Shepherd admits, "I was too busy trying to keep my job, I forgot to do my job." If only all politicians (American, Korean, and Japanese) could live up to Sorkin's moral compass (sigh).

South Korea and Japan resuming joint history study

This is the second round!

Joint history study with South Korea to resume Japan Times

Japan, South Korea to resume history study Asahi Shimbun

S.K.-Japan joint history project to be revived, Hankyoreh

Friday, April 27, 2007


He should. He is Kim Pyong-il, the brother of DPRK leader Kim Jong-il. A whole slide-show of pictures of the Dear Leader's brother and family in Poland can be seen here. One wonders whether he is happy to be in Poland.


This story has been bouncing around for a while now, but given the current pending legislation in the U.S. Congress, Abe's visit etc., it is probably worth noting:

Documents: U.S. troops used 'comfort women' after WWII

TOKYO, Japan (AP) -- Japan's abhorrent practice of enslaving women to provide sex for its troops in World War II has a little-known sequel: After its surrender -- with tacit approval from the U.S. occupation authorities -- Japan set up a similar "comfort women" system for American GIs.

An Associated Press review of historical documents and records -- some never before translated into English -- shows American authorities permitted the official brothel system to operate despite internal reports that women were being coerced into prostitution. The Americans also had full knowledge by then of Japan's atrocious treatment of women in countries across Asia that it conquered during the war.

Tens of thousands of women were employed to provide cheap sex to U.S. troops until the spring of 1946, when Gen. Douglas MacArthur shut the brothels down.

A couple of quick reactions:

--anyone who expresses shock or surprise at the idea of American soldiers frequenting brothels (and the U.S. military at least tacitly approving of the progress) probably hails from the Captain Renault school of ignoring the painfully obvious:
"I'm shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!"

--I think I have a tiny scintilla (emphasis on both "tiny" and "scintilla") of empathy for the Japanese actions in this case: if you fervently believed (not least because you were told this on a daily basis) that the Americans were sub-human barbarians who would be sure to rape every Japanese woman in sight once they reached the islands, would you not at least consider the horrific choice of trying to provide "services" for them in order avoid far more widespread and indiscriminate rape? There is a firm and strong moral case for saying "no" (expressed nicely in Ursula Le Guin's story, "The ones who walked away from Omelas"). But I can, I think, at least understand where the Japanese may have been coming from.

--Regardless of the underlying morality, doesn't this "revealation" make it even more problematic for the U.S. to criticize Japan about Comfort Women?

More on Comfort Women & Abe...

OK, so I don't have any "facts" to prove that they're connected. But, given the general anarchy (and entropy) of the world we live in, if they're not, the timing would be something of a striking coincidence.

An AP report carried in the Washington Post reports that the Japanese Supreme Court has upheld a ruling that denies compensation to two former Chinese comfort women. The Court, as we mentioned in another context in class a few weeks back, cites the 1972 Japan-China Joint Communique as the basis for its ruling, contending that China, by signing the agreement, forfeited its right to reparations.

Two quicks thoughts...a communique is legally binding? I'm no international law scholar, but I thought that status was reserved for a treaty. Second, referencing yet another point made in class some time ago, this is an interesting example of how the state bargains/represents the interests of its citizens in international agreements (or, in this case, because of other factors, perhaps doesn't).

A Japanese court issuing such a ruling isn't new. Victims in these cases seldom emerge victorious...and even if they do, their cases are sometimes overturned. (For another Post article on Chinese forced laborers having their victory over a Japanese company overturned, see here.) I just found the timing very interesting. Perhaps some thought Abe's visit would distract international attention from the rulings?

Anyway, I've enjoyed seeing an issue we've explored in class feature so prominently in current international debates on current events in Asia. I don't exactly love the nature and tone of the developments that we've seen, so don't get me wrong. Nevertheless, I have something of a perspective on a current issue that I wouldn't have had if I hadn't taken Hist 298. So wait, a minute, I guess I'm saying that grad school has proved itself immediately useful in a very tangible way. Wow. Who'da thunk?

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Look Who's In Town!

I'd apologize for beating a dead horse, but this time the horse has become current again, so I'm beating away. Again, an IHT/AP piece prompted my post...and it is from that article that I'm drawing much, but not all, of the info below. (Note: the photo at right is from the White House's website and is from the 2006 APEC meeting.)

As some of you may know, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is in town (or more accurately in Merrrr-a-land at Camp David) for his first visit (2 days) to the US as Prime Minister. There has been a decided effort to keep the visit low key in light of recent events. Thus, although there will be substance (6 Party talks, etc.), the meeting is being held at Camp David, not in DC. It's an informal dinner (cheeseburgers...just to poke at Japan, which used to be a top consumer of American beef, for the ongoing embargo), not a state dinner. And because Abe is a baseball fan (bless his heart), they're even supposed to play catch. (How you don't take him to Camden to see Da Birds, I don't know. For the love of Chowdah, they were even playing the Sawx!!) Tisk, tisk, President Bush. Tisk, tisk, indeed.

Anyway, senior officials at the NSC have noted that the visit is primarily designed for the two leaders to get to know each other (in the same way as W and Koizumi did and establish a friendship), but also because their families have a great deal of history together and because President Bush is in favor of the view of Japan (as a full security partner) that Abe and his political patrons have advocated.

Of course, given how far in his mouth he managed to stick his foot (intentions aside for the moment), the comfort issue remark was bound to come up....and did...today (Thursday). (Remember that the Congress is currently considering a motion to urge Japan to issue a formal apology for its use of comfort women.) What I found interesting, as I often do (there's so much here, but I'll only scratch the surface to save electrons), is the difference in how these events are covered, especially which details different media outlets or nations emphasize.

The IHT piece, of course, refers to the issue. Abe apparently had a meeting with members of Congress and, as the story notes, ""Republican Rep. Roy Blunt said Abe "expressed regret that his comments were not as he intended for them to be and expressed great sympathy with people who had been placed in that kind of situation."" The article goes on to note that US officials seem to think that Abe's public statements demonstrate sufficient support for the Kono Statement such that the US will not raise the issue with Abe in future meetings. (As noted above, the two sides are seeking to downplay differences and emphasize the strength of the US-Japan relationship.)

However, very understandably (and given that the purpose of its article is to cover the one issue, not the meeting in general), this Yonhap piece (perhaps also because of the detail it provides) paints a very different picture of the meeting that took place regarding Abe's comments. Yonhap reports that, several Congressmen (and their staffers) left the meeting with Abe, "less satisfied and more puzzled about his position on "comfort women."" (The article reports that about 10 people attended the meeting, including Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, and that the meeting was organized by Sen. Daniel Inouye, (HI-D), who is of Japanese descent. Rep. Mike Honda, who sponsored the resolution did not attend.) I think Grace was the first to blog on the resolution, right?

The article then asserts that the meeting served to turn the tide of support with regard to the resolution mentioned above. It quotes an unnamed source (I always love these) as saying that the Dems actually held up the resolution to wait for Abe's visit and that the meeting was organized to give Abe a chance to make his position crystal clear and to provide political cover for the resolution (cover against accusations that Abe was not given a chance to apologize or that the resolution was back doored through). The source also notes that attendees sat silent, shook their heads, and "...were extremely dissatisfied. Almost like a slap in the face."

I'll be interested to see what comes of this (or doesn't)...and how much political capital the Democrats are prepared to spend on this issue in light of how crucial the US-Japan relationship (security, economic, and otherwise) is and will continue to be. The unnamed source in the Yonhap piece says that Pelosi was going to push Abe further, but held back. If that's the case now, either the Democrats are waiting to take the White House, have other plans up their sleeves, are making back door arrangements, or....perhaps we already have our answer.


Since the Virgina Tech shooting, I've been thinking more about mainstream (not just white) American racism against Asians. I ran across this Korean-American comedian (from Arlington, VA), Suzanne Whang who is making a career out of this problem with her character, Sung Hee Park. She said in an interview that her "act is a satire of racism in America" but that "some Asian-born Asians who find my act offensive and accuse me of perpetuating racism in America. My response to that is that my intention is exactly the opposite. I'm using humor and satire to shine a light on racism and stereotypes in the same way that Archie Bunker's character did in All In The Family. "

This is my favorite quote from the interview:

what is stereotypical about a Korean woman who has the BALLS to get up on stage and try to make a room full of people laugh? A stereotypical Korean woman would be hiding in a back corner of the comedy club. One of the stereotypes of Asians is that we take ourselves too seriously, which is one of the things I'm trying to break. Most of the time, it's the minorities in the audience who come up to me first and tell me that it's the funniest thing they've ever seen. They GET IT and they're happy someone's doing what I'm doing. I think it's dangerous to be too "politically correct" and pretend everything's fine, when it's not.
She has a clip of her routine on YouTube, but it's a bit R-rated, and I'm not that comfortable posting it here. I'm fine linking to it, though. It's very funny.

Burma and North Korea Resume Diplomatic Relationship

Burma and North Korea have agreed to restore diplomatic relations after a break in 1983, according to this BBC article.

Burma broke ties with North Korea in 1983, accusing Pyongyang of a bomb attack when South Korea's president Chun Doo-hwan visited Rangoon. The question is why the two secretive and isolated regimes choose to restore ties now.

This article says, it is the need of their respective self-interest -- North Korea needs Burma's natural resources, such as oil, gas and timber, while Burma's rulers need access to military equipment, which has been blocked by US and European sanctions.

This article urges me to vote for the engagement policy again. If we continue to isolate those countries, North Korea, Burma, etc., they will probably form a bloc. At that time, they will be harder to deal with.

Face of New Currency

Going along with Sayaka's post on naming ships, I read somewhere that Korea will be issuing a 100,000 won note (this really isn't as much as it sounds, think Austin Powers when he requests a ransom of $1 million). I think this is desperately need since the largest note currently available (10,000) can barely buy you two grande frappachinnos at Starbuck's. But I think the current debate is on which famous Korean should be placed on the note. King Sejong is out since he's already on the 10,000 bill, but I heard rumors about Yi Sun Shin and some guy named Ahn (I can't remember his exact name, but it's not the soccer player). My personal vote would be for Jeon Ji Hyun, the actress, but if not, maybe Park Jung Hee?

DPRK International Relations

In light of our discussions last night about fears of the DPRK spreading its nuclear technology abroad, this (the topic of which I first saw at work, at Jane's, and I'll include a bit of their analysis of it, though I can't link that, since it's a subscription service) demonstrates that it definitely is a concern given who North Korea sometimes associates with.

It's also interesting that the US is not the only state accusing North Korea of terrorist tactics against states, given that the break between Myanmar and North Korea occurred over a bombing that the junta in Myanmar blames on North Korean troops.

Jane's article reports that there is speculation that Myanmar is moving towards creating a clandestine nuclear program, but that such claims are unverified. The conclusion is that there is unlikely to be a significant threat of nuclear proliferation from Myanmar, given that they basically cannot afford it, but the fact that the two may develop strong military ties in the near future remains a concern.

In general, ties between these two states, which are perhaps the most secretive and militarized in the world, could be a kind of reaction to the pressure faced from other states who demand more transparency and less military control in both governments. Though it is hard to see how relations between the two could significantly improve either state's situation, given a lack of economic strength on both sides, it does show who out there North Korea can have relations with, as well as Myanmar.

Running Out of Military Heroes...?

A new Aegis destroyer in South Korea will be named King Sejong. Yes, King Sejong is the father of the system of Hangul characters. S. Korea's new Aegis destroyer to be named King Sejong:Navy

The article also says, "KDX-I light destroyer ships are called King Gwanggaeto class, while the larger KDX-II class ships are called Chungmugong Yi Sun-sin. Gwanggaeto, one of the greatest kings in Korean history, is remembered for expanding the territory of the Goguryeo Kingdom. Yi Sun-sin was a legendary admiral who helped repel Japan's invasion of Korea in the late 16th century. South Korea has three King Gwanggaeto and six Chungmugong Yi Sun-sin destroyers."

Both King Gwanggaeto and Yi Sun-sin are famous military generals in Korean history. But King Sejong is more of a scholarly type... Is there no more military figure adequate for Aegis ships? It seems the choice was between King Sejong or a diplomat ("Originally, the Navy had said the first ship of the Aegis destroyers would be named Ahn Yong-bok, after a civilian-diplomat who helped settle territorial disputes over Korean islands in the East Sea with Japan in the late 17th century'). What would the Navy personnel's reactions like if they decided to go with Ahn Yong-bok considering the contemporary dispute that Korea has with Japan??


This week, a few Human Rights Organizations are sponsoring events for so-called "North Korea Freedom Week" in Washington DC. I thought you might be interested in some of the events. See this website for detail.


I don't know too much about Korean politics, but it appears as though the GNP (conservatives) got rocked in the latest elections, which was pretty unexpected. This is bad news for those who think that the current appeasement policy endorsed by the Roh administration has been ineffective. I also think it's bad news for U.S.-Korea relations because the GNP has generally been the pro-U.S. party, and some pundits think a major reason why Roh was elected was the result of Anti-American sentiments during the last Presidential elections.

As far as I can tell, the GNP is still favored to win the Presidency, but these things can change quickly depending on which underdogs decide to form a coalition at the last second, accidents involving U.S. tanks, etc. But even if the GNP controls the Blue House, its hands may be tied if the legislature is controlled by opposition forces, much like the situation that Roh faced.

Of particular interest was the fact that the GNP was destroyed in Daejeon (which I guess is like the Ohio of Korea in terms of politics), which might indicate how swing voters are leaning. The guy who won, Sim, also compared himself to Alexander the Great in a bizarre reference, but that's off the topic.

Maybe I'm just a Pessimist....

In light of Will’s post (which I enjoyed by the way) and our discussion in class, I thought I’d link to this IHT piece that addresses “Army First” politics, North Korean nationalism, and denuclearization in much the same way as we did last night. It explores several of the themes we addressed and answers some of the “factual” questions we raised. (Somehow, that word just doesn’t look right to me without the quotes!) =)

(Every time we say the ‘F’ word, I think of Washington Post newspaper vending machines around town. If any of you have seen them, you’ll know what I mean. A very prolific graffiti artist (who in DC, of course, must have a political slant) has scrawled “Lies!” across the see-through plastic window of many of the machines. This has the effect of causing passersby to see the title of the newspaper and a couple of headlines, then the “Lies!” across it all. It always makes me chuckle. Anyway, back to the article.)

Like any “balanced” journalistic endeavor, it contains quotes from “experts” on both sides of the “Will Kim give up nuclear weapons?” aisle. Yet, I think much of the piece mirrors our general sentiment in class, though…that there is a good deal of pessimism as to whether the DPRK will voluntarily denuclearize. The author, Choe Sang-hun, notes that nuclear capabilities have been highlighted in the run up to the 75th birthday of the North Korean People’s Army.

Choe adds that state media have credited nuclear capabilities with finally allowing citizens of the DPRK to “feel safe from foreign invaders.” Apparently the DPRK media credits Kim Jong-il’s songun (“Army First”) politics with this success. Choe observes that if nuclear weapons have become a part of North Korean nationalism, serious questions must be raised about Kim’s willingness and ability to give them up.

After seeing the raccoon in the documentary we watched, I’m becoming more and more convinced of the centrality of these weapons to at least some in North Korean society. Others in the piece feel that songun politics means simply that economic aid must be accompanied by normalized ties and security assurances, not that denuclearization is impossible.

Factoids from the piece (of interest or that answer questions raised in class):

- “Army First” politics apparently debuted in 1999, as part of Kim’s attempt to maintain his grip on power during the famine that took many North Korean lives. Kim apparently needed a way to explain why the military was being treated so well while so many others were suffering.

- Not only did it create support for Kim within the military (come on, who doesn’t like funding?), it fostered a sense among North Koreans that they were under attack (don’t ask who, the US, of course).

- In policy statements issued around the first of the year, the North has apparently stated that because of a “quantum leap in military power,” it would shift its focus to developing its economy. This supports the security argument in terms of the development of the weapons and the pessimistic view on whether Pyongyang might give them up.

- Apparently, police in Japan have raided the home of a 55 year-old woman in Japan accused of helping Pyongyang abduct two children a few decades ago.

While, like Will, I’d love to be more idealistic/optimistic, I’m wondering if the best we can hope for is something akin to the current situation. Would it be more realistic to follow a strategy that hopes to get North Korea to where China was in the late 1970s, by say, 50 years from now?

Again, though, as I mentioned in class, I’m not in love with the suffering that continues to go on in North Korea or the security risk it constitutes (which I realize can be over/underplayed). Some would say that hitting the North over the head with the human rights issue hasn’t worked and has been counterproductive. That’s proven to be the case with other nations. But does that mean you don’t address the issue at all in official talks? The inherent bargain in allowing time for engagement to work is that you’re adding the costs in terms of human rights (lives) and security to the material cost of getting the North to cooperate. Policy makers understand this, right? (Yes, I know their hands are tied to some extent.) And I guess, as a guy who looks at China every now and then, it seems that’s a bargain we’re willing to make.

Anyway, I guess I have to stress again what I said in class. I hope I’m wrong. I really do. But I just don’t see the current regime giving up nuclear weapons because of what they’ve invested in developing them, the status and prestige involved (domestic & abroad), the importance they’ve assumed with respect to nationalism, the North’s (reasonable) perception that they are faced with some sort of a threat, and the cold, hard reality that, lately, the US (with some caveats) rewards states that violate non-proliferation agreements.

Note: I’m also going to try and post the article by Scott Sagan I referred to in class yesterday. He tries to answer the question of why states develop nuclear weapons, and addresses several of the themes we discussed in his model, which focuses on security, domestic politics, and norms. One important observation he makes is that many states claim many different motivators, but none only claim one. It was a piece that Professor Mochizuki assigned as part of the non-proliferation unit in this semester’s PSC 289 Asian Security class. There shouldn’t be any issues, copyright or otherwise, but, to be polite, I’d like to ask Professor Mochizuki for his blessing before I do so.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Status and Nukes

Our class discussion today introduced an additional possible motivation behind North Korea's nuclear program beyond those suggested in the readings: the desire for status. Korea pursuing nukes for status's sake does not bode well for any sort of resolution to the nuclear standoff in the near future.

If the nuclear program is driven primarily by defense/security considerations, it means that conceivably, if you eliminate the security threats and build trust between the once hostile parties, then you can eliminate the need for nukes. If the U.S. convinces the North that it poses no threat (indeed a tall order), then Pyongyang should no longer feel the need to continue its nuclear weapons program.

Similarly, if the nuclear program is intended to serve as a political card (nuclear blackmail), then regular engagement contingent upon mutual cooperation and concession could eventually eliminate the need to rely on that card to gain concessions. In the case of North Korea, I think this would also require some serious confidence building over a prolonged period of time (Pyongyang and Washington have been hostile for more than 50 years). The forum of the 6 Party Talks could provide a valuable socialization mechanism in this regard...nothing like a talk shop to highlight the utility of negotiation...unless things continue the way they're going...nowhwere...(sigh) I think I'm digging myself a hole here.

To back this up, Platkovskiy (it's easier to type than say) suggests that NK only resorted to such measures in the first place b/c of domestic and international turmoil in the late 1980s/early 1990s. It was successful so they stuck with it, but it would not be Pyongyang's only way of interacting with the international system. If you eliminate the prospect of political instability through engagement and demonstrate the potential success of sincere dialogue, I think you can remove the impetus for relying on nuclear blackmail. (Granted, at this point, it would be hard to distinguish NK's genuine diplomacy from nuclear blackmail).

Certainly, these two possible drivers of the nuclear program are not mutually exclusive and there is indeed some overlap.

If achieving status is the ultimate driver of the program however, then I think that poses a considerably greater challenge and offers a more grim prognosis for the future. Status is inextricably linked to self-image and all of the other factors that comprise it. For the North's sake, it has little else going for it besides its mighty military, thus one of the utmost status symbols for a militaristic country is a nuclear bomb. It is hard to prevent an actor from following a path that makes it feel confident and good about itself. To deter Pyongyang from pursuing nuclear weapons would entail an entire overhaul of the national culture, suggesting a dramatic political and economic change of course.

For the short term, this seems far less likely than the already not-so-likely options of engagement and trust-building. Furthermore, it presents a likely incentive for the North to continue to employ nuclear blackmail as a strategy of international relations. Ultimately, I think the perceived strategic necessity, the political utility, and the ego-boosting capacity of a nuclear weapons program all drive Pyongyang's pursuit of the bomb.

Like any good idealist though, I think that the North Korean issue is solvable, despite these tremendous obstacles. (Sorry, I realize this is one of those arguments where the conclusion has no correlation to what came before it; I just need to believe that engagement will go somewhere). All parties involved in the 6 Party Talks have a vested interest in deterring and preventing the use, sale, or proliferation of nukes in the region. I think even China and Japan hold that in common. Certainly, U.S. influence remains significant enough to deter any escalation or nuclear arms race.

By a sustained effort from multiple sources to induce reforms in the North, reforming the culture up there from a militaristic one to a modernistic one is possible for the long-term, particularly with the elimination of threat perceptions and the building of trust (East Asian states specialize in CBMs after all). Short-term solutions are not tenable. Engagement remains the most effective policy, and the only policy capable of bringing about a long-term resolution to the issue...a missile defense system would also help. haha.

And the peninsula will radiate with peace and love.

Oops - here's the link


A Give Take Relationship

This column from the Chosun Ilbo summarize how some (including me) view relations between the North and South. Namely, the North exploiting the South's softness to take without giving anything in return.

A sentiment that I found particularly interesting was the columnist's question as to why the South is spending so much to finance the North's army while many South Koreans go hungry. This seems to be more of a "us-them" view of the North. For the most part, I've found that South Koreans view North Koreans as their blood and kin, but is this sentiment diminishing as time passes? I know that for me, I feel a link to South Korea only. I guess I consider myself of South Korean heritage, but not North Korean. I'm wondering if this sentiment will grow in the future.

Happy 75th, Korean People's Army!

Stratfor has an article on the parade today with some pictures, but the link doesn't work since the content is hidden in the premium section. The workaround is to Google the phrase "KPA 75 anniversary" and click on the link to the Stratfor article from there. For some reason Google has a premium pass and is able to cache the article. I am completely confused by the technical aspects, but for some reason the link only works through the google search. (if you're curious link is http://www.stratfor.com/products/premium/read_article.php?id=287747)

Missiles, missiles, everywhere, but not an American to blow up.

The second image in the set of three on the Stratfor page is of Kim Il Sung Square, and Kim Jong il may have been within 500 meters of the camera man to his left in the grandstand. For more ground photos of Pyongyang check this out.

US Soldiers use Comfort Stations in Japan post-WWII

Another page in the comfort women tragedy was publicized today. According to a press report based on documents in the National Archives, US GIs were frequent users of comfort stations while occupying Japan immediately following WWII, until MacArthur outlawed the practice in 1946.

How do you think this will affect the Korean perception of the US military? Does it matter that these were based in Japan? What happens if documents are eventually found which indicate this occurred on Korean soil?

Some quotes...

"The U.S. occupation leadership provided the Japanese government with penicillin for comfort women servicing occupation troops, established prophylactic stations near the RAA brothels and, initially, condoned the troops' use of them, according to documents discovered by Tanaka."

"Amid complaints from military chaplains and concerns that disclosure of the brothels would embarrass the occupation forces back in the United States, on March 25, 1946, MacArthur placed all brothels, comfort stations and other places of prostitution off limits. The RAA soon collapsed.

MacArthur's primary concern was not only a moral one.

By that time, Tanaka says, more than a quarter of all American GIs in the occupation forces had a sexually transmitted disease."


Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Will IT Help To Democratize North Korea

This article from Aisa Times reveals that "a mini-IT revolution is taking place in North Korea."

The Korea Computer Center is the main agency which commands North Korea's IT strategy. It was set up in 1990 by Kim Jong-il, and is considered the center of North Korea's IT revolution now. More surprising is this: in October 2004, South Korea's Defense Ministry discovered that the North had trained more than 500 computer hackers capable of launching cyber-warfare against its enemies. The Defese Ministry also reports, "North Korea's intelligence-warfare capability is estimated to have reached the level of advanced countries," and the military hackers had been put through a five-year university course training them to penetrate the computer systems of South Korea, the United States and Japan.

Most of the IT users are government agencies, research institutes, educational organizations. Access to e-mail and the Internet remains extremely limited for civilians inside North Korea . Even so, some people are optimistic about the mini-IT revolution in North Korea as the article ends, "Most probably, it will eventually break North Korea's isolation, even if the country's powerful military also benefits from improved technologies. And there may be a day when the KCNA will have something more exciting to report about than 'A furnace-firing ceremony held at the Taean Friendship Glass Factory.'"

But I am not for that conclusion. Political scientists like to argue that economic (information) development and democratization go hand in hand. But for some countries, it is not that case. China is an example. Great IT development in China has not helped democratize that nation, and North Korea will be the same.

Monday, April 23, 2007

I'm a hypocrite...

I hate feeding into and being a part of whatever ridiculously over-covered, over-analyzed story is the mass media flavor of the day (and especially part of the ignorance and (over)reaction that is almost always part of the inevitable initial media blitz). In this case, I'm referencing the unfortunate situation at Virginia Tech.
However, as the title of this post implies, I'm going to be a bit of a hypocrite because I came across something that seemed relevant to the discussion we had about the idea of Koreans as members of one nation/community (t'ongil minjok) vs. the perception that groups, in our case, again, Koreans, claim successful members of their community as their own while at the same time disowning those who don't distinguish themselves and, by association, the group. (I'm not saying this is a strictly Korean trait, I'm simply referencing our discussion).
I've been trying to avoid hearing about the whole ordeal, so when a friend sent this across, I had one finger on the delete button (by far my favorite button) as I was expecting to be assaulted with another nauseating dissection of Cho's dorm room, his diet, how long he took to shower, whether or not he slept on his back or his stomach, whether he liked ketchup on his fries, preferred pepsi to coke, etc.

Yet, this Time/CNN piece by Jennifer Veale (Seoul), although it still made me feel uncomfortable that some reporter was trolling around Korea and bothering an 85 year old woman (Cho's great-aunt, Kim Yang Sooon), had a few quotes that gave me pause.
  • Upon finding out that the shooter was Korean and a family member: "I can't describe my emotions...We don't even have any divorces in our family and everyone's sons and daughters obey their parents."
  • On the act itself and having brought such shame to her family: "In our family the children don't insult their parents..."I don't know how he could do this to his parents. I also feel terrible for the victim's families."
  • On the prospect of Cho's parents returning to Korea: "It would it would be too difficult for them if they returned here as this is a small country and Koreans are very gossipy...We wouldn't let them return and would even try and block them if they tried."
  • After saying she would have rather the neighbors didn't know, Kim adds, "After killing so many people, it is good he committed suicide."
There could be so many things at work here...translation issues, what questions were asked, the way the questions were asked, informational gaps, differences in sentiment/expression, a generation gap, etc. Nevertheless, the tone of the last two quotes really bothered me because of the certainty expressed, and, to be honest, the sentiment as well. Block them from coming back? It's good Cho killed himself?
Without judging, it just seemed a little harsh. Not that one can reconstruct a person or their values by analyzing a few truncated quotes, but I thought you all might find them interesting in light of our conversation, as I did...if only as something to reflect upon for a second.

Importing Beef

Well, it looks like Korea is keeping up its side of the bargain of the pending FTA by resuming imports of beef. They will hit the domestic market in early May when quarantine procedures have been completed. However, it was interesting to note that one of the beef importers stated that the shipment “will be delivered to our dealers, including wholesalers, as samples, and we plan to import the meat in earnest depending on reactions in the market." So what exactly does that mean? Will or will they not be importing American beef? Because the article then goes on to say that beef importation will begin in earnest the second half of this year.

The article also mentioned how domestic cattle prices dropped sharply with the pending importation of American beef. What remains to be seen is whether this will cause a domino effect in other industries, then bandwagoning, as affected industries group together to put up a fight to prevent the FTA from passing in the Korean government.

Also, wasn't there also another Ecoli scare in the US just a few days ago? I didn't really catch the news on that but I thought I heard something about hamburger meat being recalled over ecoli?? Is it big enough to affect Korea's resumption of importing US beef?