Wednesday, February 28, 2007

2/28 in Taiwan

On the issue of official apologies for past war crimes and attempts at truth and reconciliation, there is a movement in Taiwan for the Nationalist Party (KMT) to formally apologize for human rights abuses during its control over Taiwan, especially for the "2/28" incident, in which it reportedly killed several thousand Taiwanese citizens. There have been a flurry of articles on this issue lately in the Taiwan press, but here is an example. Given the fractious nature of Taiwan politics, it is tempting to see this cynically, as a DPP attempt to regain the public's favor after recent scandals, but no matter how the public views the issue, it's an interesting example of the difficulties of effecting reconciliation decades after the fact. Most of the principals responsible for policy at that time are dead--notably Jiang Jieshi (Chiang Kai-shek)--and differing memories make it difficult to know exactly what happened that day. The main questions remain: who needs to apologize--and pay out--and who should accept the apology?

The U.S. and N. Korea are working for full diplomatic relations

North Korea's top nuclear negotiator and vice minister of foreign affairs Kim Kye-gwan is on his way to the U.S. for talks on issues that would include the first steps toward the normalization of diplomatic relations, according to a State Department official. For details, read this article.

This is obviously a further step after the six-party talks held earlier this month in Beijing. Despite some pundits' opinion that the U.S. had a bad deal in the talks, in my view, approachment is much better than confrontation.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Another Textbook Controversy...

This time between Korea and China. Apparently the Ministry of Education is planning on revising Korean textbooks, this time stating that Old Chosun was founded by Dangun and that the Bronze Age on the Korean penninsula was a 1,000 years earlier than what current textbooks state. China states that this is "imprudent" and it should be interesting to see how the debate develops, especially in light of the controversy over the Northeast Project.

SK participation in coalition forces

I read this morning about the attack at Bagram base in Afghanistan which may have killed a South Korean soldier. How does the South Korean public respond to reports of the death of their soldiers in the "Long War"? With the love-hate relationship with the US, are there political segments which are bitter over the loss of Koreans in the global war on terror? Are they mobilized? Does Roh have to defend their stake in the conflict?

Monday, February 26, 2007


I just found this funny cartoon from one of my e-mails. I think it was from NYT in 2005. Since the 2.13 agreement was reached, a number of people seem to consider it negatively. I think this cartoon well portrays concerns of those people. enjoy it !!

Kim Jong-Il's successor

As we covered in class, North Korea has created a number of interesting stories for its legitimacy. Especially, Kim's family have been described as a legitimate lineage for North Korea. Most people predicted that the next leader will be transmitted from Kim Jong-Il to one of secretive "first family". Yet, it seems that hereditary succession of leadership in NK will be ended. According to a source in china, NK seeks collective leadership. It's going to be very interesting how NK will manipulate history to legitimize its new regime.

DRPK Invites IAEA back...

In what seems to be the first move towards actually implementing the agreement reached in the 6PT, the AP reports that North Korea has extended an official invitation to Mohamed El-Baradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, to visit at some point during the second week of March. (North Korea pulled out of the NPT and expelled IAEA officials in January 2003)

While I'm not overly optimistic as to what this means (this is but one discrete step down a long and winding road that a UN official in the story (I think accurately) noted "could take years"), it is a positive step nonetheless. Both U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (South Korea) and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice seem pleased with this early, positive development.

I'm not sure how long it will take, but I'll be interested to hear what El-Baradei reports. Unless I'm missing something, it would seem that his report will constitute the most up to date, authoritative statement regarding the current status of the DPRK's nuclear programs (which I guess is more of a statement of how much we don't know than how complete or authoritative I expect the report to be).

If this visit ends up happening (and there aren't any specifics as to whether it will be meetings, inspections, or anything intrusive), when do we see reciprocal moves from the US?

Migration of Koreans

Hyunsil Cultural Studies has recently published an illustrated book that compiles the history of 100 years of Korean migration to Korea and Japan. There are more pictures in the article if you're interested in looking at them.

The first picture is of Koreans leaving Japan for Korea after gaining independence, and the second one is of Koreans in Hawaii greeting newly arrived Korean immigrants at the dock.

Korea Without the U.S.

Former president Kim Dae jung wrote an editorial in the Chosun Ilbo entitled "We Must Learn to do Without the U.S." I found this article extremely interesting because although he won the Nobel Peace Prize for his Sunshine Policy, Mr. Kim had a more hawkish stance on North Korea and said South Korea (led by the president) "remains a sucker that gives away money and goods to North Korea while our security hangs in the balance."

There seems to a feeling of abandonment and betrayal by the U.S. in his writing and he points out that "The central axis of the Korean problem is moving away from one tripartite structure, of South Korea, the U.S. and Japan, to another: the U.S., China and North Korea." He then goes on to say that "As far as its own security is concerned, South Korea must search for a new path rather than trusting or relying on the U.S."

Koreans aren't the only ones criticizing the 6PT agreements--the Japanese too are not happy with the recent events. According to Professor Mochizuki, while the Japanese in Washington pay lip service to the "break-through" in negotiations, politicians in Japan feel betrayed by the U.S. for not helping them more with the abductee issue. As Mr. Kim states, the "victims" in these negotiations are Korea and Japan.

On a side note, it was surprising to hear Rice announce that she would be willing to speak with her Iranian counterpart if Iran was willing to suspend its nuclear program, which signals a big change in Bush's policy. As that was the carrot dangled before North Korea to get it to the 6PT and one of the components of the agreed framework, it will be interesting to see if Iran takes up the offer (although I highly doubt it).

South Korean Journalist Symposium in Tokyo

Many of their opinions are the same old stuff, but just for your information:

Japan, South Korea can pull Asia together,
Rules change, but Japan, S. Korea game the same.
Both articles from The Japan Times, February 22

Sunday, February 25, 2007

On the Agreement Reached at the 6PT

It looks like Professor Mike Mochizuki (here at EISA) will be making more than one contribution to our blog!

On February 17th, the Post published the actual text of the agreement reached at the lastest round of the 6PT along with a breakdown provided by two professors at UC San Diego (Susan Shirk and Stephan Haggard). Although I missed it the first time around, Professor Mochizuki caught it and was kind enough to send it around to students in his Asian Security class.

Not only is it interesting to finally see what was hammered out (for all the coverage of the meetings, this is the first time I've actually seen the agreement), the notes provided are quite interesting. It looks like an ambitious agreement which, if implemented, could bring about serious change on the Korean peninsula with respect to several outstanding issues.

The first set of measures to be taken (in the next 60 days) strike me as quite significant in and of themselves. A lot to be done in a short two months, it seems.

Why does China need "Koguryo?"

In last class, we asked the question "Why did China launch the so-called Northeast Project?"

As I am writing a paper on this, I come up with this idea. We know that China's slogan right now is "peaceful rise." She wants to be not just a regional power, but also a global power; not just politically and economically, but also culturally. Thus, ancient cultural inheritance is important to China's desired image. Although China has a long history and huge land, incessant natural disasters and wars and all kinds of movements (like the Cultural Revolution) left China few cultural relics. That is why China needs "Koguryo" desperately now.

Saturday, February 24, 2007


The Virginia legislature voted unanimously today to express "profound regret" for slavery on the 400th anniversary of Jamestown. I think it's interesting that when we see these proclaimations of apology they occur on an anniversary or other remembrance of some sort. I think in America we make alot of hollow apologies. I agree with Van Dyke though, that apology is the necessary first step.

Wikipedia - pedogical tool or illegitimate source of knowledge

Following only the article on Korean men using brokers to find wives (especially in Vietnam) as the NY Times’ most frequently e-mailed articles on Thursday, is this article about the History Department at Middlebury College banning Wikipedia as acceptable source.

Critics of Wikipedia, including Middlebury's History Department, cite it's lack of accuracy and oversight, the presentation of a biased perspective without the bias being stated (or even acknowledged), voluntary contributions and the lack of a systematic or reguarly employed mechanism to verify the information posted. Wikipedia co-founder, Jimmy Wales, commented that Middlebury’s policy was in line with Wikipedia’s philosophy that “students shouldn’t be citing encyclopedias” in their research (but commented that an outright ban of Wikipedia would be ridiculous).

This article raised some interesting questions about responsibility:

On Wikipedia's part, without being attached in an institution, or without holding individual contributors accountable for their contributions, is there little incentive to properly vet information before posting?

For universities and students, does banning Wikipedia, does it compel students to plauguarize, by using Wikipedia without citing it?

For academia, as academia criticizes Wikipedia for not being a legitimate or accurate or reliable source, yet is it (or should/could it be) the responsibility of academia to interact with the knowledge presented in accessible sources such as Wikipedia? Does making a source interactive and accessible make it less credible?

Interestingly, the article pointed to professors, like Professor Larsen, who incorporate contributing to Wikipedia (and all the questions it raises about “legitimate” knowledge) into the class. (Unfortunately, Professor Larsen was not contacted for this article.) Additionally, Wikipedia encourages schools and universities to use Wikipedia in the classroom. Our Wikipedia assignment seems to acknowledge all of these points.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Bradley Babson talk

Since I couldn't, on Wednesday night, remember the substantive portions of Babson's talk, I figured I'd write up the key points here. The title was "Engaging North Korea in a Post-Test World: Economic Perspectives". He started with context, including North Korea's key external vulnerabilities (energy, food, currency) and internal vulnerabilities (segmented economy, changing relationship of the people to the state, corruption). He made four assertions as well that were the keystone of his argument.

Assertion one was that the basic economic chanllenge was to manage three changes simultaneously: changes in the exteernal environment, economic reform, and internal policital changes (can they control them or will the changes control them?).

Assertion two was that the decision to test has altered the economic equation and increased the risks of their vulnerabilities. It is likely to have negative economic consequences.

Assertion three is that the implementation of sanctions will have both positive and negative consequences. On one hand, regulating inputs into the military economy could encourage redeployment of resources into more productive areas, such as mining and infrastructure. On the negative side, much of what North Korea needs is likely classified under dual use technology, so it will be excluded, and will be prevented from entering some industries in which they could have potentially been competitive. The segmented economy will continue to be a problem in implementing sanctions and delivering aid. It could also influence their need to be involved in illegal activity.

Assertion four is that a two pronged strategy of sanctions paired with economic assistance which would be tied to the nuclear agreement is the best chance for actually changing anything within North Korea.
He emphasized using the economic working group in the 6PT to help implement it, the need for a new domestic operational platform for NGOs and distribution, and planning both who will deliver and who will pay. Also, Babson pointed out that failure could undermine the nuclear agreement.

In the questions, he answered the main things they need to do, including having an outward oriented growth strategy, finding ways to make people want to trade with them, and finding areas where they are competitve.

Overall, my personal impressions of his ideas and recommendations were that they were balanced, and aimed practically at things that really needed to happen. He did not give odds on these things actually happening, but he did emphasize the need for outside powers to encourage it, implying that he is unsure as to whether the North Korean elite are aware or interested in these changes. But, I don't know enough about this kind of economics to state whether these are practical solutions or not.

revision of textbook regading kojoson.

finally, the south korean government seems to take an action in response to historical controversies with China. As we discussed about Kojoson and Tan'gun in class, new textbook stirs debate over kojoson. Since I was educated in Korea, I had believed that what I learned at schools was true and never posed questions. Yet, here in the States, I can't argue and can't think critically about Korean history. Putting text book issues aside, I want the government or schools to think what is the best way to educate students about historical controversies.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Tears, sorrow of Korean lepers embedded in tiny island

This is a bittersweet story. You will read how the former leprosy patients who were forced to Sorok Island under the Japanese colonial rule suffered, and you will also read that Japan actively enacted a leprosy compensation law to help the leprosy victims; you will read the former leprosy patients are discriminated by the Korean society, you will also read many nurses and volunteer workers have spent 10-20 years looking after leprosy victims on this island.

If we see a leper (any disabled person), how would we treat them?

NBR Japan-US Discussion Forum

Hi all.

Professor Mochizuki forwarded to me some articles from this NBR's online forum "Japan-US Discussion Forum". The discussions are very interesting, and I already spent a few hours just reading their discussions. Many are relevant to what we discuss here on this blog (e.g. US Congress's resolution on "comfort women," the Six-Party Talk, Abductions issue, Yasukuni Shrine etc), so I wanted to share the link with you.

I am still in the stage of learning the literature, history and politics regarding the issue of comfort women before forming personal and academic opinions, and it is helpful to read many different views on this. Here are some articles that I thought are informative.

Kazuhiko Togo (Japanese ambassador to the Netherlands and his grandfather was convicted and imprisoned as a Class A war criminal although he was against the war and tried to end it earlier)'s response to the "Japanese army brothels in WW2" discussion (especially on the Dutch comfort women). Especially for those who went to the talks at the Sigur Center the other day, he offers "the other side" of the story (but not a rightwinger one).

There are discussions back and forth regarding the US Congress's resolution on comfort women: The questions is formulated as "Is the US Congress able/competent to offer opinions on the history of Japan?" owing to the nature of the discussion forum. Various opinions are presented: Some think the US has a moral right because "Japan's front line of defense since 1945 has been the USA. Some Americans may have a moral revulsion about sending their young men and women to protect a country that is unapologetic about about their sex slave past." (the whole entry here) Others are skeptical about that ("America has been defending its own interests - that implies no obligation on anyone else's part." From this entry.) I didn't know the Japanese government has been spending a fortune to block the resolution (See this).

Christopher Hill at the Brookings

I went to Brookings Institute today. Christopher Hill talked about the update of six-party talk. It was a very interactive discussion.

Wife Shopping Spree

I found this article in the Times to be an interesting read on several levels (including some amusing pictures and the fact that business was conudcted in a karaoke bar). It's about Korean men using brokers to find wives in Vietnam because they can't find one in Korea for various reasons. It raises several humanitarian, socioeconomic, and cultural issues, but the one statistic that I found most relevant to our class is this: in 2005, 14% of Koreans married foreigners while in 2000, it was only 4%.

As we have discussed, Koreans are passionate about national unity and view non-pure Koreans in a negative light. I wonder how the Korean people and the government will react to the future influx of mixed nationality marriages and offspring.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

A historical conference on Koguryo

In honor of tonight's class (which I will be leading) and in the process of trying to figure out who the authors are, I came across discussion of the first Koguryo history conference held in the United States, at the Harvard University Korea Institute in 2005. The author of our readings, So Gil-su spoke there on Korean fortresses. Yes, fortresses, which are apparently a very controversial topic between the Chinese and Koreans. This article discusses the conference, and gives some more examples of how the history is contested. Competition seems to be fierce between the Chinese and the Koreas over whether or not fortresses and other historical sites are independent or resemble those in China. It also gives an idea of who studies this topic, including not only Korean and Chinese scholars but also Japanese, Americans, and Australians.
It was interesting to note that the author, who is certainly on the Korean side in the debates, believes that Western scholars are missing knowledge about Koguryo. I wonder, from the perspective of Western scholars, if they are actually missing information or simply less invested and less biased on the topic. The author's desire to "internationalize" the history of Koguryo is, I would imagine, an effort to legitimize it. If it is international, if they can get the American academic system or the European academic system behind it, supporting its positions on Koguryo, it would certainly lend weight to Korean arguments over Chinese. Despite the author's attempts to balance it and acknowledge a broader perspective than the purely nation-state focused one that we discussed last class, he still, in the end, says something that reminds me of propaganda: "The conference participants thus came to acknowledge that Goguryeo history is part of Korean history based on the evidence presented by the South Korean academics." Really? Did they? Even the Chinese? I am skeptical, but it is an interesting discussion of the international aspects of Koguryo history, as we will be discussing them tonight.
This notice from 2004 is also interesting, pointing out that Korean society considers the claiming of Koguryo as its history important enough to have corporations and volunteers get together to fund publication of a pamphlet in four languages, and then place that pamphlet in locations like embassies and tourist stations.

North Korean refugees

This article comments on the increase in North Korean refugees in the South. Currently 10,000 refugees are in South Korea and this number is expected to double in the next five years. The article went on to state that North Korean refugees encounter a great deal of discrimination and prejudice while adjusting to life in South Korea. Given what I perceived as a general sentiment in support of eventual reunification (or at the very least a feeling of connection – by familial ties, bloodlines and a sense of ethnic solidarity) held by South Koreans, I was surprised to read that North Korean refugees are met with such discrimination. I understand the drain on South Korean resources and the economy as a factor in wanting to control immigration, however, the drive for ethnic solidarity always seemed stronger to me. Thoughts?

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Kimjongilia Mania

The Kimjongilia festival, celebrated around the Dear Leader's birthday celebration, was joined this year not only by the Spring Festival, but also the Six Party Talks deal. (One report claims that, among the bevies of foreigners showering Kim Jong-il with presents, a North Korean official claimed South Koreans "from all walks of life" grew Kimjongilia and sent it to Kim for the festival.)

The spin in the West has been all over the place--but a lot of it has been negative, claiming that the US sold out, that Japan was disregarded, and that South Korea has to foot the bill. In North Korea, as is to be expected, the state is distorting the details to make the deal look better for them than it is. According to Chosun Ilbo, the DPRK official news agency is telling its people that they will receive 1 million tons of heavy fuel oil that in exchange for only a temporary suspension of it's nuclear facilities, instead of disabling them entirely, as the agreement actually claims--and even then, the agreement only guarantees 50,000 tons up front.

The DPRK has also apparently given the country--including people in the border regions--an unusual five-day holiday to celebrate the concurrence of Kim's birthday and the Spring Festival. The catch is that they have to wear traditional dress, which according to the report, people are too busy worrying how to feed themselves to do. (The report is worth reading for the contents of gift bags handed out, one of which includes candles from China and acorn wine.)

In an odd coincidence, in South Korea, there is a new "Han" plan to revitalize Korean culture--one of the parts of which would be to give citizens incentives to wear traditional costumes around in daily life.

And, just because it's such an odd thing, here is an article comparing Kim Jong-il and Pres. Bush. It's fairly controversial, including this:

Personality-wise, both leaders can best be described as malignant narcissists. They both betray what the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic And Statistical Manual Of Mental Disorders calls “an all-pervasive pattern of grandiosity,” a “need for admiration or adulation,” and a “lack of empathy.” This is likely a common set of traits for world leaders, but Kim’s personality cult and Bush’s quest for world domination elevate their grandiosity to a higher plane.

Thank goodness we don't have to deal with "Dubyailia".

Six Party Talks Follow Up Meetings

Yonhap (English service) reports that South Korean Deputy Foreign Minister Shim Yoon-joe is headed our way (DC) for meetings aimed at reaching agreement on "follow-up measures" to the pact on denuclearization signed last week in Beijing.

He's apparently set to meet with a number of officials, including those working on security and nonproliferation at State and the US Deputy National Security Advisor, Jack Crouch.

It seems there's already a difference in opinion as to what the pact requires, though. US officials seem to think it doesn't deal with the DPRK's weapons programs, whereas ROK officials believe the agreement requires the DPRK to submit to the IAEA a complete list of all of its nuclear installations & include weapons programs.

I find it interesting not only that there's already a divergence of opinion on what was agreed to (and not between adversaries in this particular negotiation), but that the South, not the US, would be the party erring on the side of stricter requirements.

Even more interesting is a note at the end of the article that suggests this trip is a prelude to the visit of South Korea's Foreign Minister Song Min-soon, a trip supposedly aimed at discussing
"ways to further strengthen the trust" between Seoul and Washington. Seems like a good idea to me. Interesting though, that it comes after the talks and not before.

Bringing the Human Rights Aspect Back in...

Those who follow Korea (especially North Korea) or Asia in general might be familiar with Nicholas Eberstadt, a scholar at AEI, who has, for some time, been looking at North Korea. Although I can't claim to be a Korea scholar, what I've noticed about his work is that he seems able to put numbers to things that few others can. Reliable data is a commodity when dealing with the North and therefore inherently valuable in discussions thereof. Being unable to count my own fingers, I'm also always impressed by the additional insight economists can bring to discussions of international politics.

This is, in part, why I found his recent op-ed in the NY Times (written along with Christopher Griffin, also at AEI) interesting. Instead of his usual focus on economics, Eberstadt addresses the plight of North Korean refugees and the US, ROK, and PRC failure to address their situation. When once this was the only argument one heard for working with the North instead of against it, it now seems to have faded into the background due to military and political concerns (as is often the case, I guess.)

With all the buzz over the 6PT and the agreement reached, does anyone remember hearing anything about human rights? (I realize that the talks were about disarmament, but if it were a priority, surely one of the several working groups formed afterwards to address specific issues could have been devoted to this topic). I wonder if it's because a more subtle approach to this issue has proven more successful with the North? Have we simply grown weary of trying to address these issues in North Korea?

Eberstadt urges the development of an underground railroad for DPRK refugees and undercuts the logistical difficulty of resettlement by noting that the ROK's Constitution affords every North Korean the right to resettle in the South (I didn't know this) and that the US has committed to taking in North Korean refugees (under the North Korean Human Rights Act of 2004).

He then observes, correctly I think, that the key is safe passage through China and states that rescuing refugees will "materially advance United States security interests" because defections would weaken Kim Jong-Il's regime and force it to respond to the concerns of its people.

This is where I disagree with Mr. Eberstadt. First, I simply don't buy that a few defections would influence the responsiveness of the Kim regime writ large. I see no evidence to convince me that this would be the case and have the weight of the historical record on the opposite side of the argument. Moreover, although it might make a political point, how does the instability and political tension that would undoubtedly arise "materially advance United States security interests"?

Second, Eberstadt suggests the use of "informal assurances" to coax China into becoming the way point for these refugees. So wait a minute, one of the primary motivations of the Chinese government for years, if not decades, in allowing Kim's regime to survive has been stability along its border, and we're supposed to believe that China would welcome a flood of tens (maybe hundreds) of thousands of the poorest, most needy individuals in the world into one of its most economically challenged areas. And even if the US, UN, ROK, and others could deliver on his idea of processing refugees quickly and moving them out of China, we're supposed to believe that China would welcome the kind of high profile international presence such an operation would entail? Because of "informal assurances"? What of the political considerations between the North-South and between the North-China (one could aruge that these have been enough to halt progress on the issue thus far in and of themselves).

I applaud Mr. Eberstadt for brining the issue of human rights back into the discussion...and for calling out all those involved (especially the US) for their lack of action. We often hear the argument that every day that passes without progress is another day that the North has to build weapons. Well, it's also another day that thousands upon thousands of people suffer.

I find it discouraging that little progress has been made, but it seems like the only way to make headway with the North is to link issues with security measures in a responsible, politically sensitive way (because security issues seem to be on the short list of topics that those involved in the 6PT take seriously). Again, I welcome calls like this...especially if they inspire more realistic measures to reach the goal of alleviating suffering, but I just don't see measures that: fail to include some sort of multilateral plan for implementation; that work in a semi-legal fashion; or that undercut the political, security, and economic position of one of the most important participants in the negotiations with the North (i.e. China) as the best way of doing so.

Korean Tea Time

FYI, the Sigur Center is sponsoring a Korean Tea Time on Thursday from 12:15-2:30 at the Sigur Center conference room, Ste. 503 (in the Elliott School building). If anyone of you could come out that would be much appreciated! Here's a little blurb from the flyer:

This event is open to anyone who is interested in Korea and/or wants to improve their Korean! Bring your lunch and practice your Korean with native speakers, drink tea, learn about the culture, and talk about anything you want! Light refreshments will be provided (including tea of course!).

The Japanese tea time event we had last time ended up being pretty fun and I hope this one will be the same. So please come if you can! Thanks~~

Monday, February 19, 2007

Resolution on Comfort Women

I don't know if any of you were able to make it to the talk we had last Friday with the three comfort women who tesified on the Hill last Thursday (see this article). It was quite emotional and powerful for me since it was the first time I ever got to meet and listen to the stories of comfort women in such graphic detail.

When someone in the audience asked what kind of apology would be acceptable to them, the Dutch woman replied she would take an apology from the government that didn't have politicians negating the apology right after it was developed--an apology that truly came from the Japanese government. Lee Yong-soo, the woman in the picture, was more forceful and said she would accept nothing less than the Japanese government kneeling in front of her and asking for her forgiveness.

This Congressional hearing has caused a stir in Japan with Foreign Minister Taro Aso stating that sexual exploitation of women during WWII was groundless and "definitely not based on facts." Some LDP members have also started a campaign to reverse a statement issued in 1993 that acknowledges the fact that the Japanese Imperial Army forced Asian women into sexual slavery.

Like I had stated in my earlier blog, while I am glad that this issue has received publicity in the U.S., I am not quite sure if having Congress passing a resolution on it is the best way to go. Does anyone else have any thoughts on this?

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Friday, February 16, 2007

Ms. Park Guen-hye's visit to the U.S.

Ms. Park Guen-hye, top contender to be South Korea's next president and the daughter of the late South Korean President Park Chung-hee, talked about the deal reached in the six-party talks. Using this trip, she also wants to gain support among the increasingly wealthy Korean American community here. For details, check out this article.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

land seizure

I remembered "PD sucheob (pocket book)", which is 60 minutes in Korea, covered the land issues of descendants of national traitors. If I remember correctly, those descendants sued for their properties inherited from their ancestors and won the case. I did not know anything about property law but was very angry at the results. Now, I feel much better at the fact that those assets will be confisticated. see this article (Japan collaborators face land seizure).

More FTA Issues

Along the lines of Jaime's post on the FTA and nationalism, here is a short article from last year regarding the decision to reduce the number of days cinemas must reserve for domestic films from 146 days to 73.

Personally, I think import quotas are a travesty for various macroeconomic reasons. I guess the government viewed the Korean film industry as an infant industry that needed protection before it could compete with foreign films (similar to the auto industry). But I think the film quota touches more strongly on the idea of preventing cultural imperialism - the notion that Koreans must fight against America's plan to replace Korean culture with American culture (similar to Japan during colonization).

While every country, including the U.S., is guilty of draconian protectionist measures, Korea of all countries should understand the importance of free trade in the arts. It has enjoyed enormous benefits from the popularity of Korean music and drams in other Asian countries due to the Hallyu phenomenon. What's good for the goose is good for the gander, and Korea should promote free exchange of the arts.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Nationalism and the U.S.- Korea FTA

A recent Chosun Ilbo article examines the intersection of nationalism and economic growth in U.S.-Korea FTA debate.

The American auto industry is saying that Korean consumers would benefit from liberalizing trade restrictions on US automobiles; allowing more competition will increase the competitiveness of Korean cars. Interestingly, the FTA would include Japanese cars assembled in the US to enter the Korean market under the same parameters as American cars. In this article, the American CEO of the American Chamber of Commerce poses the question: Will Korean nationalism hinder the Korean economy?

There are myriad forms of expressing nationalism and purchasing power is one with very sharp teeth. In class we have learned of buy Korean campaigns that emerged during the Japanese Colonial period as an expression of early Korean nationalism. Given how much Korean nationalism plays in all aspects of contemporary life in Korea and has been a driving force in the development of the Korean economy, is nationalism preventing the FTA from gaining acceptance? If the FTA goes through, would another buy Korea campaign be a stronger expression of nationalism?

If prices and quality are comparable, I wonder if Koreans will continue to purchase Korean cars as an expression of nationalism that is rooted in anti-Japanese and anti-American sentiment.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Park Geun-hye at the National Press Club on Valentine's Day

I just learned that Park Geun-hye, daughter of former President Park Chung Hee, National Assembly member and current head of the GNP (and potential presidential contender) will be in Washington and speaking at the National Press Club tomorrow, February 14th at 10:00am. Perhaps if the inclement weather continues and your work is cancelled, you'll be able to attend.

Three-Pronged News Roundup

I've been collecting some news clippings over the past week or so, but I kept forgetting to post them here. (So forgive me if this is a little longer than it should be!)

First, some wild rumor on secret trips by Kim and his son. According to an article in a French publication "Intelligence Online", Kim Jong-il secretly visited Macao last autumn (I have an account to the site via work, but I'm not permitted to share access, unfortunately). It claims that Kim Chong-nam was in Macao for the past few months to cover up his father's secret visit there. This is wild enough, but on top of that, the article claims that the DPRK leader's trip was facilitated by 1) the Chinese Triads, 2) the Chinese Ministry of State Security and 3) casino tycoon Stanley Ho, who is supposedly a long-time go-between for Kim Jong-il. It also claims that DPRK intelligence agents are rife in the city.

Even more weird is that now a man believed to be Kim Chong-nam has been caught by a Japanese TV crew on tape--he's in Beijing, just a few blocks from where the talks were taking place, though he claims not to have anything to do with them. I haven't seen the report in English yet, but here's a Korean page on the sighting, with pictures of Kim and the man on the Japanese news. (At least I think it is--I don't know Korean!)

Next, some background on how diplomatic language gets crafted at the multi-lingual 6 Party Talks mechanism. Asia Times has an interesting article this week on the informal translations that end up characterizing the DPRK stance, often inaccurately. Here's an excerpt:

One time, a South Korean doctoral student at Peking University was hired to be the "mouth" of North Korean negotiators. With his help, the next day a news article about the North Korean talks was published, including on the Cable News Network (CNN) website.

The piece reported: "A spokesman for Pyongyang denounced efforts to get it to give up its nuclear program without concessions by the United States and called such demands 'brigandish'." The only problem with that translation was that the North Korean spokesman didn't use the term "brigandish". What the North Korean actually said was: "This kind of demand is like asking us to disarm first. I think this is a naive request. Our response is: don't even dream of it."
Also, Kyodo News noticed that both the US and DPRK negotiators used the same proverb in talking to reporters about the talks before the agreement yesterday: "don't count your chickens before they hatch". (Kyodo didn't seem to know what to do with this odd similarity, and neither do I--it probably has no significance.)

Finally, what is going on with the DPRK's borders? There have been several reports in the past week about a platoon of border guards in Hoeryong who allegedly defected en masse into northern China, and who are now reportedly being chased by DPRK "secret agents". The Daily NK , in a recent article (reprinted here), says that the report is credible, and hypothesizes that the border guards took advantage of the bribery system to amass enough money through bribes to then bribe their own way out of the country. Since then, it has reported that Chinese security forces are aiding the DPRK to capture these guards (and some are already in custody), but that Beijing is ambivalent on the issue, though the reason for this is unexplained.

The first article claims that if the state of North Korean corruption and inability to hold onto its citizens has reached this point, then it may be entering the final stages of collapse. That seems to be jumping the gun to me, especially since the DPRK has been said to be about to collapse for a long time now.

More telling, I think, is this article on the city of Hoeryong, a popular defection site and a city that has more exposure to capitalism. According to the article's sources, Kim Jong-il declared a campaign to "purify" Hoeryong last year, which one person called "intense". The article said that border defections have become extremely difficult recently, raising interesting questions about the reports on the border guard defections.

Also the article gives some figures on the cost of defection:

According to North Korean defectors, “Earning five million won in North Korean currency (approximately 1.6 million won) before being discharged” is a trend among North Korean border patrollers in Hoeryong. Considering that the average monthly wage of a North Korean worker is three thousand won, they would have to work 140 years in order to earn this sum of money. The border patrollers normally received 500 yuan (200,000 won in North Korean currency) per defector for allowing them to cross the river.

Comparison to Taiwan's Nationalistic History

I'm interested in postcolonial histories of Taiwan and Korea, and the question that Diana posed a while ago is a big theme to me, too. I put some speculations as a comment to her entry, but I think this article on Taiwan's history shows how differently they regard the memory of the Japanese occupation to serve the goals of their nationalist histories: Describing Taiwan's real history.

Since the goal is to separate Taiwan's history from China, the article emphasizes that Taiwan was occasionally ruled by foreign powers, of which China is just one; "Japan occupied" is an incorrect expression that might give an impression that Taiwan always belonged to China. (e.g. "Taiwan has never been a part of China except for 1945 to 1949 during the Chinese Civil War when the Chinese colonial regime occupied Taiwan and slaughtered many Taiwanese... The new textbooks correctly say that during the Japanese colonial period Taiwan was "Japan-governed" rather than "Japan-occupied.'") The new textbooks apparently play down the Rape of Nanjing, too (Taiwan textbooks downplay Japan massacre)

6PT Progress

Well, according to an article in the NYT this morning a tentative agreement has been reached between the US, China, Russia and South Korea as to what to offer North Korea ($400 million in fuel oil and aid) in return for dismantling of the nuclear reactors and allowing IAEA officials back into the country. It's believed that the 5 participants will agree to it and North Korea has 60 days to accept the agreement.

Unsurprisingly, Japan has refused to offer any aid to North Korea unless the issue of the Japanese abductees has been separately resolved. (Not that Shinzo Abe has any choice since his hardline stance on North Korea and the abductee issue is what elected him). Thus, the burden of providing aid falls to the shoulders of South Korea, the US and China, and Bush will have to get Congressional approval for the aid package.

There seems to be greater efforts this time to go step-by-step, issue-by-issue, to make sure the talks don't collapse, and there are big hopes that China signing the agreement as well will ensure North Korea's compliance. However, the collapse almost collapsed on Sunday due to North Korea's energy demands and there are a lot of kinks to work out, not least the Japanese abductee issue. Hopefully though there will be more steps forward than backwards.

Korean and Japanese scholars complete a jointly-written history textbook

A brief article from the Chosun Ilbo today notes that Korean and Japanese historians have just completed a jointly-written history textbook on exchanges between the two countries. The textbook will be distributed in both countries and is scheduled for release next month.

The project stands out for two reasons: 1) it emphasizes reciprocity of exchange between the two from prehistoric days to the present (notable for the scope and the nature of interation); and 2) the entire book was written collectively with scholars from each side collaborating on each topic as opposed to one group taking one topic, and another group taking another.

It will be interesting to see if and how the origins of the Korean people are examined, and how the figure of Tangun would play a role. For example, will the book suggest that certain ethnic/cultural ties dating back to prehistory link the two nations together as Japanese history traditionally suggested? Or would it suggest a more autonomous origin of the Korean people? My hunch tells me that such controversial subject matter may be left out. Nonetheless, this project is groundbreaking in many ways, and I am curious to see what it has produced.

Monday, February 12, 2007

8 Chinese dead in a fire at a detention center for illegegal immigrants in ROK

A fire at a detention center for illegal immigrants in South Korea left at least nine people dead so far including eight Chinese early Sunday. The cause of the fire was under investigation, but immigration officials said an electrical short circuit was believed to be responsible.

Check out this article.

Sigur Center Event: Comfort Women

While I'm sure most of you will see this in your inbox, it's so directly relevant to what we've been discussing (and represents a truly rare opportunity) that I thought it worth posting here.

For those with some free time during the day:

Asia Policy Point and the Sigur Center present:

Title: The Experience of a World War Two "Comfort Woman": A DutchSurvivor Discusses Her Story

In the Sigur Center 's Lecture Series on Transnational Asia

Speaker: Jan Ruff O'Herne

Jan Ruff O'Herne was living in the Netherlands East Indies when the Japanese army invaded Java in 1942. Her female family members, along with thousands of other women and children, were interned in Ambarawa Prison camp. Two years later in 1944, when Jan was 21 years old, she was forcibly removed from the camp into a "comfort station" for the Japanese Imperial Army. In 1992, when three Korean comfort women spoke outpublicly for the first time, demanding an apology and compensation from Japan , Jan decided the time had come for her to speak out as well. She has spoken widely on her "comfort woman" experiences, and is the author of 50 Years of Silence. In September 2001, the Netherlands Government awarded her the Order van Oranje Nassau in recognition of her work as a spokeswoman about the plight of the "comfort women." She currently lives in Australia.

Date: Friday, February 16, 2007, 12:30-1:45 pm

Place: Lindner Family Commons, The Elliott School of InternationalAffairs, 6th Floor, 1957 E Street, NW

RSVP: Please RSVP with your name, organization/GW affiliation, ande-mail to by Thursday, February 15.

6PT & Japanese abductees issue

On Saturday I went to a Korea-Japan dialogue that was hosted by the Institute for Multi-Track Diplomacy. Korean and Japanese graduate students, with a sprinkling of scholars, came together to discuss current Korean-Japanese relations. Unsurprisingly, there were divisions between what the Korean and Japanese students thought--some small, some big.

The 6PT came up and it was interesting to hear some background information on it. The Koreans were saying that the Korean government was initially unwilling to include the Japanese abductees issue into the 6PT because their biggest concern was resolving the nuclear issue. If the abductee issue was brought into the discussions it could potentially cause the break-down of the talks, which the Korean government did not want. Their mentality was: deal with the big issues first, then we can get specific. But they finally agreed to it (in part because Japan refused to start the 6PT without it on the table) and the general opinion in Korea regarding this was of incredulity. From the Korean point of view, they didn't understand how the Japanese could make such a fuss over a few abductees when they forced thousands of Korean women into sex slavery. What right did the Japanese have when they have yet to face up to the issue of the sex slavery? The vibe I was getting in the room from the Koreans seemed to generally agree with that line of thinking.

While I do understand and sympathize with the Korean p.o.v., it doesn't negate the fact that the Japanese families also have a right to know what happened to their relative. All in all, I was rather depressed when I walked out of the room because it made me realize the enormity of the differences of opinion on both sides. How can reconciliation begin when there is so much misunderstanding, mistrust and resentment on either side?

"Hongik Ingan" & Modern South Korean Society

At least one version of the Korean creation myth of Tangun describes "devotion to the welfare of mankind" or hongik ingan as one of the reasons that Hwanung, Tangun's father, descended from heaven and took residence in the world of man. Lee Hyun-hee et al. (p. 48) note that Hwanung "came to this world in order to serve the people, not to receive respect or worship, nor to rule." They then go on (p. 49) to stress that ancient Koreans considered harmony to be important.

Other readings for this week seem to add to this theme that Korean society was close-knit (even after the development of iron tools led to societal change), and placed great value on harmony. One reading notes that relations within Korean society, even between groups one would expect to be antagonistic, such as landlords and peasants, were relatively harmonious. It notes that Korean history stands in contrast to that of China, which was marked by continuous strife between landlords and peasants, and recurrent peasant uprisings.

Prior to beginning formal study of Korea (this course), (correct or not) I'd also had the distinct impression that, because of Confucian and Asian values, Korean society was relatively close-knit, socially conservative, and placed great emphasis on familial ties. (vague and generalistic, I know)

With this as a background, and as someone interested in the effects modernization has on societies, I read with great interest this CNN/AP piece on a South Korean psychiatrist, Dr. Lee Hong-shick, affiliated with Yonsei University, who founded the Korean Association for Suicide Prevention in an attempt to address the incomplete care suicidal patients had been receiving (many were treated and sent home without follow up care).

The article quotes statistics from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) that put the rate of suicides in South Korea at 24.7 per 100,000 people in 2005. By their reckoning, this figure gives the South the highest suicide rate in the world (as of 2005; it compares the South's 2005 figure with 2002/2003 figures for Japan and the US that list Japan at 20.3 suicides per 100,000 people and the US at 10.2 per 100,000.) It adds that the South's National Police Agency has released a report stating that "suicide is the leading cause of death for South Koreans in their 20s and 30s."

The CNN/AP article then theorizes as to why suicide has become so common in South Korea, offering commonly heard explanations tied to 1) stress related to modernization, economic development, and the pressure to succeed in life, 2) an increasingly weak family/social support system, and 3) the role of the Internet in exacerbating this trend (making information on suicide easily accessible)

The report ends with a brief note that some are calling for comprehensive approaches from the South Korean government to address the issue, including counseling. Although the theories offered to explain the phenomenon seem reasonable, similar pressures are felt in many societies, but don't result in such high suicide rates. I wonder what is it about modern Korean society in particular that makes Koreans more open or vulnerable to suicidal tendencies? What is fueling or exacerbating this trend? Does the answer lie in the influence of traditional values, modern dilemmas, or how the two clash? Anyway, given the emphasis on harmony and social responsibility noted above, I'm interested to see what South Koreans themselves see as the primary reasons behind this troubling trend and to see what Korea does, as a society, to address the issue.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

What Makes the Korean Church Grow?

Actually, Sayaka introduced this article to me -- "What Makes the Korean Church Grow?" The author of this article of course considers numerous spiritual factors, like providence of God, for that growth. But he also offers several non-theological elements that have furthered the expansion of Christianity in Korea, which I think are objective observations, and want to share with you. Based on this article, I've summarized these non-theological factors below.

1. Formal Protestant missions in Korea started in 1884 with the arrival of American Presbyterian missionaries including Horace Allen, Horace Underwood and Henry Davies. Unlike Catholicism, Protestant Christianity came to Korea at a time of total breakdown in the nation's social, political, and religious life. The five hundred-year-old Yi dynasty was losing its independence to the rising empire of Japan. As the official faith of doomed dynasty, Confucianism was becoming thoroughly discredited; Buddhism had been in decline even longer. As the traditions of centuries were falling in clusters, many Koreans, in despair, turned with hope to the new strong, self-confident faith of the Christians. In such circumstances the church's association with the West was not the liability it has been in other parts of the Third World. It was more an asset. For the colonialism afflicting the Koreans was not Western but Asiatic. To them the West meant freedom, democracy and progress. Into this vacuum of faith and meaning with its loss of national pride came the Good News. It was the right news at the right time, and it was communicated in the right way.

2. As Confucianism and Buddhism for a time almost disappeared, Shamanism was stronger and more deeply ingrained. Shamanism is a primitive Last Asian animistic faith of nature spirits. It was no match, however, for Christianity. Unlike the higher, organized religions of the world that have been major obstacles to the spread of the Gospel, animism has been more often than not an indication of opportunity rather than resistance. It has been in the religious soil of animism that Christian church planters have reaped their most spectacular harvests. Korea has been no exception.

3. When the Japanese annexed Korea in 1910 and began to harass the church, the authorities found that the church was the one free Korean organization they could not control. Christians were the backbone of the great, non-violent, Korean independence demonstrations of 1919. Again in the years before World War II Christians fought bitterly against compromise with Japanese-imposed Shinto worship and were persecuted for their resistance. Ultimately, this served to identify the church more closely in the popular mind with anti-colonialism and with Korean nationalism. Christianity could no longer be stigmatized as foreign. It had become Korean, sharing the hopes and aspirations of the nation.

Ideological Control and the Internet

In the Economist last week, there was an article entitled "Weird but wired" about the use of the internet in North Korea. Typically, computers in North Korea are utilized for "educational and scientific purposes" but they also have their own form of the internet, dubbed "Kwangmyong" or "bright". This internet is used for a limited number of things, including news dissemination and is, of course, strictly controlled. But it has given elite North Koreans access to email, and others to the wonderful world of online dating (the official interviewed apparently met his girlfriend online).

In terms of North Korea, the internet can be seen as a new media through which to disseminate propaganda, and also as a huge risk to the North Korean government's tight control over information. If individuals can manage to access the broader internet through China, as the article points out is possible, it could pose a potentially huge political disaster for Kim and his government. As we discussed in the last class, it would be a massive shock to most normal North Koreans to discover that not everyone loves and reveres there Dear Leader, nor do most people care much about North Korea aside from nuclear weapons.

With these kinds of risks inherent in the use of the internet, what are the big selling points to Kim? Is this an effort to perhaps create greater and closer ties with the outside world by improving drastically the communication between North Koreans and everyone else?

"India passes Korea for Asia's Third-largest Economy"

One theme that pops up from time to time in the study of Korean history is the notion of Korea as an underdog or a victim, or the idea that Korea and its people are often overlooked or underestimated, especially when assessed in the context of Asia as a whole. The case can certainly be made that this perspective is justified. Reputable think tanks around DC concentrate heavily on China and Japan while paying little attention to the peninsula in between the two; Korea-related courses at the Elliott School are comparatively few; and even news from the peninsula of tremendous consequence to national security, such as a North Korean nuclear test, quickly fade from the headlines here at home.

Korea exists in relative obscurity for many, despite the ROK's tremendous economic relevance, both globally and regionally, and its significance to U.S. security interests. It has been one of top ten strongest economies in the world in recent years (Chosun Ilbo) and a significant trade partner for the United States for quite some time. It retains its title as our "ally" despite increasingly tenuous times for the United States in international diplomacy, and equally challenging times for the bilateral relationship itself.

Nonetheless, this recent article suggests that the ROK and the Korean Peninsula as a whole will continue to remain under the radar. India (and to a lesser extent, Russia) continue to climb the economic rankings and India has recently deposed South Korea as Asia's third largest economy. The report speculates that the predominant power on the subcontinent, and Russia, will soon surpass South Korea and push it out of the top twelve largest economies in the world. While economic growth in those two countries is perhaps a little less stable than elsewhere, for me the article seems to reassure that Korea will continue in its role of secondary significance for many international scholars and policy-makers that deal with the region.

I've framed the significance of this shift in a "neglected Korea" type of construct. But outside of this lens, does such a shift matter? Arguably, the content of the article is more relevant for India than the ROK. Nonetheless, where does this "always the bride's maid, never the bride" kind of existence for the peninsula come from? I don't think I've imagined it. Is it a consequence of external factors in the international system prioritizing U.S. interests away from the Peninsula? Does the fact that the US-ROK relationship and Korea's development have been fairly stable and consistent mean that they merit less attention? Perhaps the next few months will reveal some answers.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

DPRK-Japan History conflicts

In searching for Tan'gun on the KN news website, I saw a KCNA piece from June 2005. The DRPK's History Society blasts the Japanese for various acts during the colonial period. It is interesting that they provided data regarding the quantity of raw materials that were pillaged by the Japanese. "They took away to Japan an immeasurable quantity of resources including nearly 400 tons of gold, 17.98 million tons of iron, 30 million cubic meters of timber and 39 million tons of rice."

Did these figures come from a Chinese, ROK, or western source? Or did DPRK calculate them?

As an aside - this quote interested me too: "Even since the publication of the DPRK-Japan Pyongyang Declaration the Japanese reactionaries have frantically kicked up a row against the DPRK, persistently talking about its "nuclear issue" and "missile issue" and crying out for a solution to the "abduction issue" that had already been solved."

What are they referring to when they say the abduction issue has already been resolved?

Time for a 6PT Update!

So I'm posting on the six party talks....I know, what a surprise (sorry, I'll try to mix it up in the future).

After a string of optimistic reports leading up to the talks and persisting through as late as yesterday (Friday, IHT), it seems, as they often do, the negotiations have hit a snag (CNN). There seems to be general agreement on a timeline for beginning the process of denuclearization (China circulated a proposal calling for the North to halt activity at its reactors and processing facilities within 2 months). This represents progress over the previous round of talks, which broke up over the question of how and when to begin implementing the process (and in light of the US seizure of DPRK funds).

Although US Envoy Christopher Hill has stated that neither the US freezing of DPRK assets in Macao nor the halting of activity at the Yongbyon reactor were among the outstanding disputes (as of today), there is apparently a significant gap over how much (quantity) energy and economic aid the North is to receive.

While the overarching goal of the process remains the elimination of the North's nuclear weapons program, officials from the US and Japan seem to differ even among themselves on what an acceptable resolution would look like. While Japan's chief delegate, Kenichiro Sasae is quoted as advocating that North Korea "halt and seal" its Yongbyon reactor, Hill seems to see a freeze as an initial step to what would be a more thorough process that ultimately leads to North Korea dismantling and completely abandoning all of its nuclear weapons programs.

Although US, South Korean, and Japanese officials have been portrayed as cautiously optimistic, it's important to remember that details like this can be deal breakers (reference the cause of the breakdown of the previous round, above.) Talks are set to continue through today and tomorrow.

Friday, February 09, 2007

The first Protestant missionary and martyr in Korea

As Christianity has grown dramatically in South Korea over the past few decades (Christians have comprised about 30% of the South Korean population today), the Korean Christian community attributes this expansion to Robert Jermain Thomas (1839-1866), who was considered the first Protestant missionary and martyr in Korea.

Thomas was born in Rhayadar South Wales (UK) in 1839. At the age of 15, he began to preach in his church where his father was a minister. At 24, he was ordained to be a missionary with the London Missionary Society. After having mastered nearly all the European languages and studied medicine for 18 months and spent five years at London University, Thomas, accompanied by his young bride Caroline, embarked for China, and they arrived in Shanghai in December 1863.

Sadly, after four months his bride died. With grief, Thomas resigned from the Mission Society, and went to Peking and became a lecturer in English and Chinese. Later he became an agent for the National Bible Society of Scotland and exported Bibles to Korea.

In 1866, Thomas was killed along with other General Sherman crew during the Sherman-Korean Collision when he was hired as the interpreter for the crew. Some witnesses of that conflict later gave accounts about Thomas’s “heroic deed” to spread the Gospel before his death. His image as the first Protestant martyr for Korea was stronger and stronger as Christianity grew in Korea. On the initiative of some Presbyterian ministers, a church was dedicated in Pyong Yang in September 1931 to remember the contribution and death of this young British missionary. This church was closed down later by the Communist regime and damaged.

However, Thomas’s martyrdom is not without controversy. “The General Sherman Incident of 1866 and Rev. Thomas' Martyrdom” by Professor Han Gyu Mu challenges Thomas's image as the first Christian martyr for Korea. There are also articles back that image.

The King and the Clown

There's a movie, "The King and the Clown," (I dislike this translation but whatever) playing at the KORUS House next week Thursday at 6:30 if you're interested in seeing it. There's also free food afterwards! It was a big hit in 2005--also controversial for its gay theme--and definitely worth seeing. Maybe we could all go together as a group, for those of you who are interested in seeing it.

You'll need to RSVP with the Sejong Society.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Food Aid to North Korea

After North Korea's underground nuclear test last October, South Korea immediately suspended a shipment of 500,000 tonnes of food supplies, and China also reduced food exports to North Korea last year, as responses to North Korea's "provocative act." But North Korea is a country in need of food. The World Food Programme has identified 1.9 million North Koreans as in immediate need of help.

As the six-party talks have begun in Beijing, some believe that food aid is crucial to this round of talks. For more, read this article.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Korean History Dramas Upset China

Sorry for bombarding this blog with my entries (but I am also amazed at how often Korean historical controversies make news). Snowume posted an entry about history described in TV dramas a while ago, but this is probably a follow-up.

Korean Historical Soaps Upset China in Chosun Ilbo.

Politics (or war?) over popular discourse!!

Korean Victims of the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb

Another article to share:
"A court in Busan has rejected a claim by six victims of the nuclear blast in Nagasaki, who were in the Japanese city as forced laborers for Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, saying the statute of limitations has expired." This was the first claim by Korean victims of forced labor by Japanese companies that has been heard in a Korean court.

Korean court rejects claim against Mitsubishi by A-bomb victims, Hankyoreh News

The war compensation issues are complicated because there are political, legal and moral dimensions, I think. It is especially so in the cases of atomic bomb victims...

Anarchism in Korean History

I happened to find a very interesting article on one of the anarchist websites (not that I check them regularly):

Notes on Korean anarchism to 1940 in

I really enjoyed the historical narrative of modern Korea from an anarchist point of view. I'm fascinated by the fact that there emerged all sorts of ideologies (anarchism, communisum etc) to fight Japan's imperialism. It almost reminds me of the chaos of the Spanish civil war described by George Orwell.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Event of Interest at the Sigur Center

I'm guessing most have probably already seen this in their inbox at some point during this past week, but I thought I'd post it here just in case.

The Sigur Center Presents:

Title: Engaging North Korea in a Post-Test World: Economic Perspectives

In the Sigur Center's Lecture Series on Flashpoints in Asia

Speaker: Bradley Babson, Asian Affairs Consultant

Bradley O. Babson is currently a consultant on Asian affairs with a concentration on North Korea and Northeast Asia economic cooperation. Previously, he worked for the World Bank, covering several countries across Southeast and East Asia. From 1997-2000 he served as Senior Advisor in the office of the Regional Vice President for East Asia and the Pacific, where he began his studies of the North Korean economy. He was appointed the first Resident Representative to Hanoi, Vietnam from 1994-1997. Mr. Babson has recently participated in projects on North Korea sponsored by the Center for Strategic International Studies, U.S. Institute for Peace, National Bureau for Asian Research and the Stanley Foundation. His most recent writing is a Policy Brief on "Economic Perspectives of Future Directions for Engagement with the DPRK in a Post-Test World," published in December 2006. He serves on the Advisory Council of the Korea Economic Institute of America and is a founding member of the National Committee on North Korea. Mr. Babson received his BA degree from Williams College and MPA degree from the Woodrow Wilson School of International and Public Affairs at Princeton University.

Date: Wednesday, February 21, 12:30-1:45 pm

Place: The Chung-wen Shih Conference Room, The Sigur Center for AsianStudies, Suite 503, 1957 E Street, NW

RSVP: Please RSVP with your name, organization/GW affiliation, ande-mail to by Friday, February 16.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Let the Games Begin...

With chief US envoy Christopher Hill currently in South Korea (and on his way to Japan for meetings on Monday), posturing has begun well in advance of the resumption of this round of the Six Party Talks.

Forbes quotes an Asahi Shimbun report that says the DPRK has offered to suspend activity at its plutonium-producing nuclear reactor at Yongbyon in exchange for half a million tons (or more) of oil per year (or the equivalent). Apparently the offer was made last week during meetings between US State Department officials and the North's chief negotiator, Kim Kye-Gwan.

When asked about this offer by the Japanese media (NHK) while in Seoul, Hill admitted that energy assistance was possible, but also immediately reframed the discussion to emphasize that his (the USG's) primary concern was making progress in terms of implementing denuclearization. The Forbes report then cites a Kyodo report (that used information from unnamed government sources..which I always love) to assert that Japan would refuse to grant food or energy aid without a guarantee that the abduction issue would be resolved (no matter the progress made in other areas).

It will be interesting to see how public statements change after Hill's visit to Japan and in the run up to the talks themselves. While this may all be par for the course in terms of diplomatic and political posturing, I'm not sure that it's helpful to be tying conditions so strictly to such intractable issues before negotations have even begun (although I understand how one builds leverage by doing so). Why pile the table high when you're just now getting back to meetings on setting a plan to implement an agreement reached more than a year ago? It's also somewhat discouraging that after all this time, the five non-DPRK parties still don't seem to be presenting a united front on what they want and how they're going to achieve it (although this may be intentional, or due to domestic political reasons).

And so it goes...let's see what the media has for us tomorrow.

More on DPRK Money Laundering

We've had a post or two on the Six Party Talks and some of the other issues being addressed in the run up to this week's meetings. Of interest in this regard is a report from the IHT that demonstrates some of the difficulties authorities face when trying to prosecute international financial crimes.

According to the report, the bank that is being accused of helping North Korea launder its high quality, counterfeit US $100 dollar bills, Banco Delta Asia (BDA), says it relied on the Hong Kong-Shanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC) in New York to authenticate large deposits of US currency. The notes were purportedly shipped to New York, analyzed, and authenticated prior to being credited to depositor's account. The notes are notoriously of high quality, but, nevertheless, a former US Treasury official is quoted in the story as being pretty confident that they'd be identified immediately. HSBC, of course, refused comment. A classic case of he said, she said it seems. But this one should be pretty easy to solve: were the notes shipped or not? Not that this absolves BDA of any wrongdoing, but I'd be interested to know. I never imagined that the counterfeiting/laundering process involved actually shipping fake money back into the US for verification before it entered the money supply.

Also, the report notes that, in his talks with DPRK officials last Wednesday, U.S. deputy assistant Treasury secretary, Daniel Glaser reviewed 50 individual accounts with his counterparts. One has to wonder why the US, which had for so long refused any and all direct meetings with the North, would now being reviewing accounts one by one with the North prior to this week's meeting. It's also interesting that an official at Glaser's level is doing so. Does this suggest that the issue of the DPRK's frozen assets is one where we might see some movement this week?

"Comfort Women" Resolution

Apparently the US Congress is about to pass a resolution denouncing Japan's use of comfort women during WWII and demanding that the Japanese government issue an apology for this. While I am glad that this issue has gained publicity in the US, I'm not quite sure if the US should be passing a resolution regarding this matter. Why and should the US be issuing decrees to other sovereign nations to apologize for their actions? The Japanese government, I believe, needs to apologize for what it did to those women during the war, but it is something that needs to come from within, not imposed from without.

And what moral legitimacy does the US have to pass such a resolution? None. Our "imperialistic" history is pretty dirty as well and if we're going to tell other sovereign nations to issue apologies, we should be the first to take that step and set the example.

On another note, historical dramas--especially those regarding early Korean history--have become even more popular in Korea and are causing quite a stir in China. This article mentions "Jumong" (set during the founding of the Koguryo Kingdom and one of the biggest hit dramas last year in Korea) and how Chinese bloggers are accusing Koreans of trying to rewrite history like the Japanese. I found this to be a rather interesting accusation and it goes to show how something that happened thousands of years ago can affect present-day relations.

The Park Chung-hee Legacy

To continue what Sean mentioned earlier, it seems that South Korea is on a mission lately to open up issues from the Park Chung-hee era. I read an article last week that talked about a special commission publishing the names of the judges who were involved in judicially implementing Park's laws and upholding his actions. Several of those people are currently sitting on the Korean Supreme Court and are judges in other courts. This was controversial as the judges argued that they weren't really involved in the proceedings, they were junior judges at the time, they had no choice, etc.

Another editorial I read mentioned the recent court case that declared the eight people who were executed in the 1975 "People’s Revolutionary Party Reconstruction Committee" case as not guilty. The interesting part of this article was that the author said that Park Geun-hye, the daughter of Park Chung-hee, should apologize to the victims' families in this case, as "Even under inheritance laws, you must accept the debts as well as the assets. If Park wants to be a true leader for South Korea, it would behoove her to pay off her father’s debts and begin anew with no weight on her shoulders."

If Park Geun-hye does run in the coming election, I wonder how much her father's legacy will help or hinder her election prospects. It's a double-edged legacy and it all boils down to the question of whether or not the Korean public will take the view that the sins of the fathers are passed down to the children.

Connecting the SuperBowl to the controversial issue of discrimination in Korea

Discrimination in Korea

Hines Ward, last year's SuperBowl MVP of the Pittsburgh Steelers, has used his celebrity to act as a force of social change in Korea (and for other social issues in the U.S.) bringing attention to issues of racism. Hines, the son of an African-American soldier and Korean mother, has made multiple trips to Korea and created a foundation to raise awareness about discrimination against people of multi-racial heritage.

As our class seems to represent a diverse set of experiences in Asia (and in honor of SuperBowl Sunday and Hines Ward), I thought I would put the controversial topic of discrimination in Korea on the table.

Discrimination, especially on account of race, is a contentious and multi-faceted topic steeped in the unique historical context of the particular society in question. Addressing the topic discrimination from a variety of perspectives (as Koreans, as Korean-Americans, as Americans in Korea, as Americans studying Korea, as Japanese or Chinese students with experience in Korea and in the U.S., etc.) can shed light on different aspects of the complex, tangled web of power, privilege and oppression and how these are manifested in behavior of governments, groups and individuals in the case of Korea.

Some interesting variables in the case of Korea:

-Korea's history of colonization: Korea has a complex and painful history of being discriminated against. Does a history of being part of an oppressed group (such as Korea during the Japanese Colonial period) make that group (Koreans) more prone to discriminate when they are in a position of power? Does it make a group more sympathetic to issues of subordination and discrimination?

-Continued American military presence: Is discrimination against the American military possible? Given the continued presence and power of the American military, despite prejudice and animosity felt towards the American military and Americans more generally, can we argue that Koreans still lack the power to racially discriminate against Americans?

-Recent economic development: Now that the South Korean economy has grown to such a level where workers are now being imported from countries with lesser-developed economies (primarily other Asian countries), does race serve as an indicator of class? Is race the factor that is being actively discriminated against? Is race a guise for class?

-Korea's increased international role: As Korea becomes a greater player on the world stage, as more foreign attention and business comes to Korea (bringing more foreign companies as well as workers), will Korea have to address discriminatory policies and behaviors in order to become a more prominent international player?

-White privilege: Even in society where Caucasians are in the extreme minority, can white privilege exist? What are the bounds of white privilege? Is privilege about treatment or can white privilege go so far as to include standards of beauty (seeing pictures of Caucasians on beauty products, etc.)? Is white privilege an issue just for foreigners or does it pertain to Koreans as well? As as example, in my case as a white woman in Korea (and not in the case of Hines Ward or many Korean-Americans), my national identity as an American was never questioned. Moreover, white foreigners are, overwhelmingly, treated as superstars instead of being greeted with disbelief or discrimination.

-Racial and ethnic homogeneity: Given the racial and ethnic homogeneity in Korea combined with the Confucian emphasis on bloodlines, diversity is not a part of the social reality for most Koreans (especially Koreans living outside of Seoul), nor has it been espoused as a cultural value. Should cultural awareness and acceptance be a priority on the social agenda?

Hines Ward offers an interesting case - he can't be placed into any box. Not only is he part-Korean, but he offers an example that America is multi-cultural and multi-racial. I hope that his celebrity in Korea not only brings attention to discrimination against people of multi-racial heritage, but people of color more generally, including foreign workers in Korea.


Saturday, February 03, 2007

NK-Japan Abduction Issue

I saw a story on the ROK embassy website earlier this week about Japan being concerned with the bi-lateral engagement between the US and North Korea and how it might negatively affect Japan's desire to resolve the abduction issue.

I can't find the darn story now, but here's a link to the wiki page on the abductions, and here's a statement from ROK President Roh saying that he doesn't feel its appropriate for the abduction issue to come up in the six party talks.

If you were a regional power and had a grievance with North Korea, do you feel it would be appropriate to bring the issue to a regionally-devised peace conference? If you agree with President Roh, where would you feel it appropriate for the Japanese to continue to press the issue with North Korea?

In my opinion there are already too many issues at stake in the 6PT, and the abduction issue should be carried elsewhere, but if I were Japan I wouldn't necessarily want to hold my breath on the opportunity for future negociations with NK, especially with the current uncertainty over additional provocations (missile tests, nuke tests) in the event (likely event, IMHO) that the 6PT stall.

What do ya'll think?

Interesting Columns on Korea-Japan

I would like to share two newspaper columns that might interest you.

Can ‘Sea of Peace’ Mend S. Korea-Japan Fences? from the Korea Times
We are going to cover this issue (and I'm the designated presenter!) in class soon. The article points out that the issue is about politics over hisotry. ("While the name of the sea is a symbolic matter between Japan and South Korea, there are some more tricky problems between the two countries: the Dokdo islets (claimed by Japan), distortion of Japan’s militaristic past wrongdoings and visits by the prime minister to the Yasukuni Shrine that honors Japan’s war dead and contains the remains of war criminals.") Personally I do not really care about what the sea is called, but the politics and emotions surrounding the issue are very interesting.

Another column in Hankyoreh
The mirrored societies of Korea and Japan
I am usually very skeptical about any efforts to stereotype national characteristics, and I have a mixed feeling about this piece. But I have to admit that the author is very cautious and sensible in comparing two societies. I want to hear what others think about his analysis.

Geopolitical protest from the podium

In an act similiar to the black power salute at the 1968 Olympics, a recent Chosun Ilbo article shows silver-medlist South Korean speedskaters using their moment on the podium to make a political statement about a terroritorial dispute between North Korea and China, that Mt. Baekdu is part of Korea.

This raises some interesting issues:

-Sports as a venue for international political debates: is time on the podium (the moment when athletes receive the most attention) an appropriate moment to espouse a political belief?

-Responses from the ROK and DPRK governments: athletic events have been a venue for tension and separation (the DPRK boycotting the 1988 Seoul Olympic games) and unificiation (the unified Korean team marching together in Olympic opening ceremonies since the 2000 Sydney games). In this case, South Korean athletes are asserting a claim about an issue of terriorial soverneignty between North Korea and China. Given the sacred status of Mt. Baekdu in Korean myth and indentity and their alliance with China, how will the DPRK repond? Given that it's a claim about a mountain that is outside of South Korea but made by South Korean citizens, how will the ROK government respond?

-The strength, intensity and boundaries of Korean national identity: at a moment steeped in patriotism and personal achievement, these South Korean athletes made a politically symbolic statement - asserting their opinion on a contentious issue between China and the DPRK while on Chinese soil. To me, it demonstrates the profund conviction with which Koreans feel towards their country and sense of sovereignty.

-The power of myth: does the use of myth (picture Kim Jong-Il as Neo) further legitimize or delegitimize Korea's claim on Mt. Baekdu?

-Location, location, location: would these athletes have shown this banner had the Winter Asia Games been held in another country and not in China?

Kim Jong-il's oldest son leads playboy life in Macau

The family saga of North Korea's ruling dynasty took a strange new twist this week with the revelation that Kim Jong-il's oldest son, Kim Jong-nam who had been groomed to succeed his father, is leading a life of gambling and drinking in Mauca.

See this article.

For more background information about Kim Jong-nam and the Kim family, see this article from Aisa Times.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Gigantic Rabbits

I'm not really sure how to connect this article with Korean history, but I just wanted to post it because it's just so strange. Apparently, the answer to the nation's poverty problem lies in huge rabbits.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Japanese colonial rules in Korea and Taiwan

I am pondering this question, and look forward to your insights.

Taiwan was under Japanese rule from 1895 to 1945, and Korea became Japan's colony only 15 years after Taiwan. Thinking about all those anti-Japanese movements in Korea, it is clear to me that Korean sentiment toward Japan's colonial rule was (and is) in stark contrast from that in Taiwan.


Supreme Court Re-Trials

This article from Donga Ilbo reports that the Supreme Court of Korea has selected 224 cases to be re-tried. All of the cases are from the Park/Chun era when the Court often ruled against innocent citizens on grounds of national security. I can certainly understand how setting the record straight would provide a healing effect for the families of those that were wrongly convicted. It would also soothe the painful memories of living under martial law.

But what effect does this have on the legitimacy of the Supreme Court? Many of these cases are less than 20 years old. If the court readily admits that it has been nothing but a lackey for the executive, how can it expect the public to regard it as an independent judicial body?

North Korean Succession

I just came across this article on Chosun Ilbo regarding a reported sighting of Kim Jong-Nam, Kim Jong-Il's eldest son in Macau (he seems to have inherited the Kim physique). He was labeled a traitor in North Korea, and hasn't been allowed to re-enter the country.

This appears to raise questions as to what will happen upon the death of the elder Kim. I recall hearing all sorts of speculation regarding possible turmoil and instability following the death of Kim Il-Sung; even though Kim Jong-Il had been groomed for the role for over a decade. Is North Korea prepared for a smooth transition should something happen to the Dear Leader?

Also, he was reportedly labeled a traitor because he recommended that North Korea adopt economic reforms similar to those adopted by China under Deng Xiaoping. I'm assuming that he couldn't have been the only one in the North Korean government who supported such an idea. Could this mean that there is genuine discussion of such reforms?

North Korean Succession

I just came across this article on Chosun Ilbo regarding a reported sighting of Kim Jong-Nam, Kim Jong-Il's eldest son in Macau (he seems to have inherited the Kim physique). He was labeled a traitor in North Korea, and hasn't been allowed to re-enter the country.

This appears to raise questions as to what will happen upon the death of the elder Kim. I recall hearing all sorts of speculation regarding possible turmoil and instability following the death of Kim Il-Sung; even though Kim Jong-Il had been groomed for the role for over a decade. Is North Korea prepared for a smooth transition should something happen to the Dear Leader?

Also, he was reportedly labeled a traitor because he recommended that North Korea adopt economic reforms similar to those adopted by China under Deng Xiaoping. I'm assuming that he couldn't have been the only one in the North Korean government who supported such an idea. Could this mean that there is genuine discussion of such reforms?