[May 8th, 2019] Lecture co-sponsored by KPN, PISA, and GWIKS: “Audacious Imagination for Peace”

On May 8th, 2019,  Korea Peace Network, Partnerships for International Strategies in Asia, and the GW Institute for Korean Studies co-sponsored a lecture with Mr. Lee Taeho, Chair of Policy Committee of People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy on “Audacious Imagination for Peace – Key to the Korean Peninsula and Northeast Asia”. Moderated by Professor Linda Yarr, Director of Partnerships for International Strategies in Asia (PISA), and assisted by his translator Jenny Jeong, Mr. Lee began by introducing himself as an NGO activist. The topic of his talk was on how civil society can make peace and how peace can be a solution to issues on the Korean Peninsula. Mr. Lee read the script he prepared along with his presentation. He explained that as South Korea had successfully addressed social challenges in a peaceful and democratic way, as shown from the example of the candlelight revolution that impeached the former president, Park Geun-hye, challenges in inter-Korean relations can be handled peacefully as well. The Panmunjeom Declaration announced as a result of the first inter-Korean Summit not only gave hope for a new era of peace on the Korean Peninsula, but also served as a communication channel for North-South Koreas and U.S. – North Korea. Calling for “a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula through complete denuclearization”, the Panmunjeom Declaration aimed to establish a permanent and stable peace regime on the Korean Peninsula. Furthermore, the Singapore Joint Statement between U.S. and North Korea clarified that new and improved U.S.-North Korea relations and security assurance of the North Korean regime must be established in order  to achieve complete denuclearization. In other words, both U.S. and South Korea took a peaceful and mutually trusting approach to facilitate denuclearization of North Korea. Unlike the previous negotiations among North Korea, South Korea and U.S., the three countries are working together to build trust and mutually corresponding relationship. South Korea and U.S. decided to put of Joint military exercises, one of many obstacles in resolving conflicts with North Korea. North Korea agreed to seize nuclear tests and dismantle the Punggyre-ri Nuclear Test Site.

Despite the efforts of the leaders of North and South Korea and the U.S., there remains much more obstacles in tackling issues with North Korea. The second North Korea- U.S. Summit in Hanoi ended without reaching further agreements on North Korean nuclear weapons, and raised mutual mistrust between the two countries. Mr. Lee argued that in order for the ongoing negotiations to lead to the establishment of relations among two Koreas and other neighboring countries, the following perception and approaches should be faithfully maintained. South Korea and U.S. must recognize that their military superiority is overwhelming and threatening in the eyes of North Korea. Thus, South Korea and U.S. should initiate military and threat reduction plan in order to ease tension. Second, there needs to be an all-corresponding consensus on transitioning Northeast Asia into  a Nuclear Weapon Free Zone through joining the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. Third, U.S. and the United Nations should take active steps to life some of their harsh sanctions imposed on North Korea. Such draconian economic sanctions only serve as obstacles in implementing inter-Korean agreements as well as inter-Korean exchanges and cooperation. Fourth, Northeast Asian maritime territorial disputes must be resolved in order to alleviate military tensions and resolve conflicts on the Korean Peninsula. Lastly, we must deviate from the stereotypes and taboos of the confrontational Cold War Era and gear toward a more optimistic and peace-oriented approach. Such approach has been proven to be more effective than the previous antagonistic, distrusting military confrontations. This shift toward peaceful means of conflict resolution has been detected not only on the Korean Peninsula, but in South China Sea as well. Mr. Lee explained that governments and citizens of concerned countries should initiate peaceful measures to make this seemingly “unrealistic” scenario a reality.

[May 6th, 2019] Korea Policy Forum: “North Korea and Myanmar: Divergent Paths”

On May 6th, 2019, GWIKS and the Sigur Center for Asian Studies co-sponsored Korea Policy Forum with Andray Abrahamian, 2018-2019 Koret Fellow at Stanford University, on “North Korea and Myanmar: Divergent Paths.” Moderated by Professor Jisoo M. Kim, Director of the Institute for Korean Studies at GW, Dr. Abrahamian began by sharing with the audience of his experience of working in North Korea. During his work at Choson Exchange, he has lived in Beijing and traveled to North Korea numerous times. When his wife got a job in Myanmar, he began to question “what needs to happen when a country is trying to come in from a period of isolation and reintegrate with the global community.” His research on comparing Myanmar and North Korea has been produced into his recent book, North Korea and Myanmar: Divergent Paths. Why has Myanmar transitioned successfully when North Korea could not?


Dr. Abrahamian explained that the reasons he decided to compare these two culturally different countries, with divergent histories, and different experiences of colonialism. Strategically they occupy similar positions for China at the heart of Asian landmass, as northeastern and southwestern buffer states. The people of both countries have suffered a long period of isolation and poverty by the choices made by their governments and external responses to their policies. Also, they are the only countries that almost completely sat out wealth creation project that stretch from Singapore to Japan that lifted hundreds of millions of people from poverty. Some claim that Myanmar is still a basket case with ethnic cleansing and genocide still taking place. Dr. Abrahamian explained that while it is true, the current situation of Myanmar is in no comparison to that of North Korea. He argued that both countries, from their births, have faced existential security threat and only in the process of overcoming that threat, was the state of Myanmar able to turn its focus to the reasons for its isolation and address those sufficiently to reintegrate itself into the international community. North Koreans, however, are still trying to find ways to address that security threat. Both of those threats develop outside of the state emerge from their colonial period.


Dr. Abrahamian explained that in North Korea, every single person involved in publishing is heavily surveilled and everything that comes out in the media is subject to strict censorship, whereas, in Myanmar, the press is given more freedom and leniency. Even in controlling its borders, Myanmar’s borders are porous and easily accessible, whereas North Korean borders are among the most fiercely guarded places in the world. Snuggling takes place in both places, but in far less frequency in North Korea than in Myanmar. Finally, North Korea operates under a state ideology – the grand narrative of the Korean people righteously struggling for their independence against the hostile world; something absent in Burma. After comparing the conditions of North Korea and Myanmar, Dr. Abrahamian concluded that North Korea and Myanmar, despite their similar histories, have taken different paths mainly due to their government policies.

Co-sponsored Lecture by the Sejong Society of Washington, D.C. and GW Institute for Korean Studies: Sumona Guha, “East Meets South: South Korea – India Relations”

On April 30, 2019, GWIKS and the Sejong Society of Washington D.C. co-sponsored a lecture series with Sumona Guha, Vice President of Albright Stonebridge Group, on East Meets South: South Korea – India Relations. The moderator Garrett J. R. Redfield, the Programming Director of the Sejong Society and Asia-Pacific Analyst at the Institute for Defense Analyses, began with a brief introduction of South Korea and its significance. While most discussions about the Korean Peninsula revolve around North Korea and its security issues, South Korea presents equal importance in its development because it is the 11th largest economy in the world, despite its small size. In November  2017, President Moon called for the “New Southern Policy,” which focuses on the 3P’s: people, prosperity, and peace. Among the three, President Moon aims to achieve success through mutually reciprocal economic cooperation. India is an essential pillar of this policy because it shares Korea’s core values of democracy and a liberal market economy, and views India as an emerging global growth engine. South Korea seeks to enhance its economic relations with India by upgrading the ROK-India comprehensive economic partnership agreement and supporting India’s flagship initiatives.

Guha began by commenting that India’s foreign policy is changing and listed a few points about India and South Korea relations. India had long attempted to situate itself in Asia through its “Act East Policy” to form linguistic and cultural ties with East Asia. Under Prime Minister Modi, India has taken initiatives to branch out and develop diplomatic relations with other countries, including South Korea. Prime Minister Modi’s global leadership agenda was also a way to attract foreign investment to India and expand India’s involvement in world affairs. Under Modi, India has deepened its ties with ASEAN and reformed its economic plan, modeled after China’s economic growth. Prime Minister Modi and President Moon have visited each South Korea and India and taken initiatives to deepen cooperation and bilateral relations with each other. Balancing China is also another essential agenda for India through strengthening institutions that many countries operate in, rather than direct confrontation. As India grows, Guha expects to see more South Korean commercial companies involved in India. Unlike ASEAN that hold regular meetings, South Korea and India may face challenges in that their cooperation is not regular.

Lecture Series: Chisu T. Ko, “Korean Women, Argentine Documentaries: A Look at La Chica del Sur (2012) and Una Canción Coreana (2014)”

On April 25, 2019, GWIKS and Latin American and Hemispheric Studies co-sponsored a lecture series with Professor Chisu Teresa Ko, Associate Professor of Spanish and Coordinator of the Latin American at Ursinus College, on “Korean Women, Argentine Documentaries: A Look at La Chica del Sur (2012) and Una Canción Coreana (2014)”. Moderated by Professor Jisoo M. Kim, Director of the Institute for Korean Studies at GW, Dr. Ko briefly explained how the Argentinian filmmaker José Luis García produced his 2012 documentary La chica del sur (“The Girl From the South”). In 1989, José Luis García arrived to World Festival of Youth and students in Pyongyang, where he met Lim Su-kyung, a young South Korean student who attended the festival in representation of  the student organization Jeondaehyop. Lim had obtained the nickname Flower of Reunification by calling for reunification of the two Koreas, openly criticizing the South Korean Government, sympathizing with North Korea, and insisting on returning to South Korea through the military demarcation line in the DMZ. Enchanted by Lim’s bold and charismatic gesture of traveling to North Korea despite South Korea’s strict national security laws, García later searched her on the internet, traveled to South Korea and interviewed her in 2011. Dr. Ko then introduced another film Una Canción Coreana (“A Korean Song”), co-directed by two Argentine directors, Gustavo Tarrío and Yael Tujsnaider. An-Ra Chung, unlike Lim Su-kyung, is not a famous political icon, but a typical Korean immigrant in Buenos Aires. The documentary portrays Chung’s busy daily life, complex family and work, and a process of opening a new Korean restaurant. Chung is represented as a member of a Korean community that exist in a segregated bubble with little exchange with what is considered Argentine society.  

Dr. Ko points out how the films depict both Lim and Chung’s voices being silenced by gender power dynamics and changing political discourses. While Lim spoke in front of the international press and tens of thousands of spectators about the issues of inter-Korean relations, she is still expected to maintain the role of typical Korean women, preparing food for her guests and family and not participating in conversations. In the documentary, Lim remain silent and invisible when surrounded by older Korean men, and strangers comment on her appearance. Men would explain things to her, even her own political ideology, despite her status as a political icon, activist and professor. Even García himself seems more infatuated about the idea of fragrant Oriental woman and absorbed in the urge to liberate her from oppressive, patriarchal society, rather than addressing the issue of reunification or gender. The documentary  Una Canción Coreana highlights the contradiction of a superwoman who seems to lack a sense of self. Chung is a successful business woman, a voice teacher, a performer and a mother of two children. The film also display her as someone who lacks individual identity and describes herself in tentative terms. The image of Oriental with with lack of self identity maps out perfectly to her construction of herself in hierarchical relation to others, such as her mother-in-law. The film also displays that her husband Victor Ho making all the decisions for her and speaks for her.However, as the film continues, the audience witnesses Chung taking control of and becoming an agent in of the production of the film. The filmmakers’ portrayal reveals the Argentine imaginary of Korean women silenced in patriarchal society.   

Dr. Ko remarked that there has been a surprising surge of documentary films about the Korean community in Argentina recently. This sudden interest of Korean community follows simultaneous invisibility and hypervisibility of Koreans in the Argentine imaginary. Korean immigration to Argentina began in 1960s and peaked in 1990s. Reportedly more than 40,000 Koreans are settling in Argentina. Until recently, representation of Korean community in popular culture and media had been scarce and often negative. They were invisible because they were considered numerically insignificant, foreign, and highly unsimilarable group. But other times, they were hypervisible for the same reasons. The large influx of Korean immigrants in the 1990s was considered “yellow invasion” and Korean immigrants were accused of not learning Spanish, tax evaders, exploiters, and even slave holders. Stereotypes about Korean immigrants can be seen from the sketch character La Coreana performed in yellowface by comedian Juana Molina. La Coreana is described as supermarket owner who is very sneaky and smart with money, always finding ways to rip off her customers, but unintelligent in everything else and used broken Spanish. While much of explicit anti-Korean portrayal id disappearing from mainstream media, Korean descendants are often discriminated against as ultimate foreigners. After discussing the representation of Koreans in Argentine media, Dr. Ko concluded the lecture by arguing that within the realm of representation of Koreans and Asians at large in Argentina, these films exemplify an important turning point. Within the problematic new model of Argentine multiculturalism based on a system of recognition that maintains the hegemony of the recognizer and essentializes the recognized, the position of Asians in Argentina is especially problematic. While Asians have been highly visible as instruments of multiculturalism, they were considered outsiders, exotic foreigners locked in Argentine ideology of Orientalism .       

[May 8th, 2019] “Audacious Imagination for Peace – Key to the Korean Peninsula and Northeast Asia”

Korea Peace Network, Partnerships for International Strategies in Asia,
and GW Institute for Korean Studies Present:


“Audacious Imagination for Peace – Key to the Korean Peninsula and Northeast Asia”



Lee Taeho, Chair of Policy Committee, People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy

Date & Time

Wednesday, May 8, 2019, 2:00 pm – 4:00 pm


Room 505

Elliott School of International Affairs, the George Washington University

1957 E Street NW, Washington, DC 20052




◊ Event Description

With the April 27 Inter-Korean Summit at the Panmunjeom and the June 12 North Korea-U.S. Summit in Singapore, a great shift has begun in the ceasefire and military confrontation state of the Korean Peninsula. This shift is toward a “complete denuclearization” and a “permanent peace regime” on the Korean Peninsula, and a “new relationship” among the countries concerned. The shift in political climate on the Korean Peninsula has resulted from the candlelight revolution took place in South Korea in late 2016. The candlelight revolution has shown that citizens themselves have the capacity to address social challenges in a peaceful and democratic way. The candlelight revolution has helped strengthen the diplomatic capacity of the new administration, which has been launched in accordance with the people’s wishes for peace, serving as a driving force to instigate cooperation from North Korea and the international community including the U.S. for peaceful resolution of issues on the Korean Peninsula. It is necessary to exercise new imagination in order to escape stereotypes and taboos of the confrontational Cold War era. Antagonism and disbelief, military confrontation and oppression, which have been presented under the name of realism, have caused aggravation instead of solving problems.

◊ Speaker

Lee Taeho, Chair of Policy Committee, People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy (PSPD)

Lee Taeho joined PSPD in 1995, one of the most influential watchdog NGOs in South Korea, and served as a secretary general in 2011–2016, leading PSPD’s major activities from economic justice and civil and political rights to peace and disarmament. In particular, he has played a leading role in civil movements, mainly on the political reform, monitoring state power, promoting peace and human rights. He was also one of the main organizers of candlelight vigils for the immediate resignation of President Park Geun-hye which was held between 2016 winter and 2017 spring, as well as a truth-seeking campaign of the Sewol ferry disaster which happened in 2014.


◊ Moderator

Linda Yarr

Linda Yarr, Director, Partnerships for International Strategies in Asia

Linda J. Yarr is Research Professor of Practice of International Affairs and Director of Partnerships for International Strategies in Asia (PISA) at the Elliott School of International Affairs, The George Washington University. She was the U.S. delegate to the Northeast Asia Women’s Peace Conference in Seoul in October 2010. In 2016, in cooperation with Center for Northeast Asia Studies at Liaoning University in Shenyang, China, she convened a Trilateral Dialogue on the Asia-Pacific Future, which addressed prospects for academic exchange with the DPRK. She is a member of the board of directors of Critical Asian Studies.



This event is on the record and open to the media.

This event will be streamed live at Korea Peace Network Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/koreapeacenetwork/

Korea Policy Forum: Troy Strangarone, “The Implications of Demographic Decline for South Korean National Security”

On April 4, 2019, GWIKS hosted its very first Korea Policy Forum with Troy Stangarone, Senior Director of Congressional Affairs and Trade at Korea Economic Institute of America (KEI) on “The Implications of Demographic Decline for South Korean National Security”. Moderated by Professor Celeste Arrington, Korea Foundation Assistant Professor of Political Science and International Affairs at George Washington University, Mr. Stangarone began his lecture by introducing two theories on demographics and national security: geriatric peace and increase in instability. He explained that, according to the Geriatric Peace theory, as the population ages, economic growth will slow down, with the decline in the population in the workforce and more capital spent on welfare. This is problematic in that the government has less to spend on defence. He also pointed out that not all countries will age at the same rate, leading to weakening of security in countries with lower birth rates, particularly South Korea. According to the Increasing Instability theory, countries with younger population will likely transition to neo-authoritarianism (for example, China or Russia), but will not transition to high-income states (for example South Korea and Taiwan), causing international instability. In countries with multi-ethnicity, some ethnicities will rise while others decline, based on their rate of aging population.

Mr. Stangarone then presented a graph of prospects on South Korean demographic trend. The graph displayed three possible trends in South Korean population from 2015 to 2040. As he pointed out that in 2018, South Korea’s total fertility rate had reached below 1 at 0.98, predicted that the potential trend in South Korean population will be somewhere between medium and low trends predicted by the UN. He revealed concern that if South Korea’s population trend moves closer to the low variant, by 2040, 16.5 million people leaving the workforce, decreasing South Korea’s labor pool by half. When added with South Korea’s relatively long life expectancy, there will be less people in the workforce to support the aged population, while more aged population will be in need of support. This is critical in that it will decline economic growth and increase health care costs. He then mentioned that South Korea has the highest level of aged poverty in OECD at 45.7%, along with high rate of old age suicide. South Korea’s declining birth rate can result in social and economic problems in more ways than one.

As far as security, such trend will lead to less capital to spend on national defense and decline in the young population to serve in the military. With South Korea currently confronting North Korea, the size of South Korean military is particularly crucial. Mr. Strangarone then listed some of the Moon administration’s initiatives to resolve the issue: downsizing the military, reducing mandatory service time, shifting reliance from manpower to artificial intelligence, replacing some jobs formerly held by the military with civilians, and budget increase of 7.5% for five years. As he continued to list some of other potential options, he clarified that these suggested solutions are not silver bullets to resolve the problem. The potential options he mentioned includes: tax, healthcare, and pension reforms, labor market reform and raising the retirement age, increased female economic participation, defence reforms, artificial intelligence, and immigration. Among these options, he found that defence reforms to be the most promising. By eliminating the requirement of eight years in reserves, semi-professionalizing the reserves and providing greater income source for the core group of dedicated professionals, the efficiency of the military will increase.

[April 30th, 2019] East Meets South: South Korea – India Relations




The Institute for Korean Studies
The Sejong Society of Washington, D.C.

“East Meets South: The Importance of South Korea – India Relations”

Sumona Guha, Vice President, Albright Stonebridge Group

Date & Time
Tuesday, April 30, 2019
6:00 pm – 7:00 pm

Room 602, the Lindner Family Commons,
Elliott School of International Affairs, the George Washington University
1957 E Street, NW, Washington, DC 20052



Event Topics

1) Assessing the Korea-India Summit
2) Implications of India’s “Act East Policy” and Korea’s “New Southern Policy”
3) Forecasting the Future of South Korea – India Relations


Speaker: Sumona Guha

Sumona Guha is a Vice President at ASG, where she draws on nearly twenty years of experience in Europe and South Asia to advise firm clients on market entry and expansion, including political and regulatory strategies.  During her 18 years in the U.S. government she served in the Office of the Vice President of the United States, the Office of the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, and the Secretary of State’s Policy Planning office, as well as in U.S. embassies in Moscow and Paris. She also served as Senior Director at the U.S.-India Business Council (USIBC), where she focused on infrastructure, energy, and manufacturing and launched an Indo-Pacific initiative to promote economic connectivity across the region. While at the U.S. Department of State, Ms. Guha spent four years on the Secretary of State’s Policy Planning Staff with responsibility for South Asia, and was a Senior Advisor and Deputy Director for Afghanistan Affairs in the Office of the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. Prior to that, Ms. Guha served in the White House as Special Advisor for Europe and Eurasia in the Office of the Vice President.  Ms. Guha also served in the Office of the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs as a Special Assistant for Europe and Eurasia. She spent a year as a Pearson Foreign Affairs Fellow in the U.S. Senate. Earlier in her State Department career, Ms. Guha served as an economist in the Office of Russian Affairs; Watch Officer at the Operations Center; Political Advisor at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations; Special Assistant to the Ambassador at the U.S. Embassy in Paris; and Political Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. Ms. Guha received her an M.A. in Public Policy from Georgetown University and a B.A. in Economics and Psychology from The Johns Hopkins University.


Moderator: Garrett J. R. Redfield

Garrett Redfield is the Programming Director of the Sejong Society and Asia-Pacific Analyst at the Institute for Defense Analyses, specializing in Korean Peninsula affairs. He is a Korean American adoptee who has spent extensive time working, living, and studying in Korea. Previously, he worked for the U.S. Department of State supporting interagency counterterrorism exercises. He has a Master of International Affairs degree from the Pennsylvania State University, and is proficient in Korean. 



This event is on the record and open to the media.

The Soh Jai Pil Circle on Contemporary Korean Affairs: John Merrill, “The Jeju 4.3 Incident, Korea’s ‘Dark History,’ and Its Implications for North Korea Policy.”

GWIKS hosted a Soh Jaipil Circle event on February 14th, 2019 with John Merrill, the former chief of the Northeast Asia Division in the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research, on “The Jeju 4.3 Incident, Korea’s ‘Dark History,’ and Its Implications for North Korea Policy.” Moderated by Professor Celeste Arrington, Dr. Merrill began by explaining that what he refers to as the “Dark History” of Korea is so because the South Korean government has deliberately buried it. He explained that post-World War II history of Korea has been corrupted by series of authoritarian South Korean governments and only recently has it begun to be corrected. Dr. Merrill then pointed out that the tone of U.S. media coverage on current issues between U.S. and North Korea is filled with cynicism and bad analysis, and lacks self-awareness. He criticized that most of the commentators on the Korean issue are not keeping track of their own predictions. He then mentioned a Chosun Ilbo story from a few days before on South Korean legislatives’ meeting with the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi. In particular, he pointed out Pelosi’s comment, “Well, I visited North Korea once before twenty years ago,” explaining that it exemplifies the misfortunate shallowness of many commentaries in seeing North Korea as ‘the land that time forgot.’ While everything in Korean Politics is changing rapidly, no one seems to be keeping track.

He then shared his personal experience with the dark history. When he first joined the State Department in the spring of 1987, he was on the Korean government’s blacklist as a banned author. Although he was soon removed from the blacklist, he had faced difficulties in performing his duties to interface with South Korean agencies, foreign ministry and the National Intelligence Service. Dr. Merrill explained that President Donald Trump lacks deep understanding of Modern Korean history and is totally disconnected from Washington establishment of Korean Watchers. His approach towards North Korea is quite different from that of U.S. media and commentators. It is based on feel, empathy, and schmoozing. Apparently, the schmoozing technique is working effectively with Kim Jong-un, particularly after being demonized for so long.

The manhwa, or comic strip, Dr. Merrill presented depicted the Monggumpo Operation of August 1949. In 1949, the South Korean navy launched a sneak attack on the North Korean fleet, the West Coast headquarter at Mongumpo on the personal orders of President Syngman Rhee, cutting out the entire U.S. military chain of command. The operation had been concealed because it suggests that South Korea was perhaps partially responsible for the outbreak of the Korean War, until President Lee Myung-bak revealed it to send a warning to North Korea. Dr. Merrill then proceeded to explain another hidden incident in South Korean history, the Jeju Uprising. An estimate of 30 thousand people who opposed separate election under U.S. occupation of South Korea. The police and military forces killed large number of the residents of the Jeju Island who protested and rioted in multiple occasions.

Dr. Merrill concluded the lecture by pointing out that the nuclear weapon issue on the Korean Peninsula is an action-reaction dynamic, initiated by the U.S. deploying nuclear weapons in South Korea. In order to resolve conflicts, we must take alternative methods than simply pointing fingers and blaming each other. He explained that North Korea is the way it is now because the U.S. helped create the deeply traumatized state through deterrence and threat.

February/March Blog Topic: Air Pollution in South Korea

Topic: Air Pollution in South Korea


Background: South Korea is facing hazardous level of air pollution. Clouds of thick smog and microdust had covered South Korea’s sky. According to CNN meteorologists, the level of microdust had reached AQI of 150-225, during the past couple of days. South Korean media, such as Yonhap news and JoongAng newspaper, reported that the microdust and air pollution is flying in from China and called out President Moon Jae-in for failing to raise the issue with China. To be specific, the Korea Research Institute of Standards and Science claimed to have evidence that a rise in fine dust during spring was partly due to massive numbers of fireworks used in China for Lunar New Year celebrations, citing a spike in potassium in the air as evidence. Researchers at the Seoul Institute and labs affiliated with the Ministry of Environment have claimed that China is more than 50 to 60 percent responsible for the fine dust polluting South Korea’s air. However, China denies such allegations, refuting that South Korea should track its domestic pollutants before blaming China.


Guiding Questions:

– What could be the reason that Asia, in particular, is suffering from such heavy smog and hazardous levels of pollution?

– What are some environmental policy measures that South Korean government can take to tackle air pollution issue without jeopardizing its relations with China?



The questions above are only suggestions; please feel free to take your own creative approach to the topic!



Submission Instructions:


– Posts should be approximately 300-1,000 words.


– Submissions will be accepted until Friday, April 5th.

2018 Summer Study Abroad Program



GWIKS’s second two-week summer study abroad program in Seoul, South Korea began on June 24th and ended on July 7th, 2018. During the program, the students explored Korean identities, division, reunification, and economic differences between the two Koreas. The theme for this year’s GW Institute for Korean Studies (GWIKS) Summer Program was “Korea in the 21st Century: Past, Present, and Future in the Age of Globalization.



The students gathered at a restaurant in Jongno, Seoul, on June 24th, for the welcoming dinner and met with the two instructors, Professor Jisoo M. Kim and Professor Miok Pak. Among the summer program participants, there were seven undergraduates and five graduates from various majors – Business, Biology, Anthropology, and International Affairs. Within the two weeks, compact site-visits were planned to help the students understand the complexity of Korea’s history and how it reflects in the current modern society. The purpose of the program was to have the students see firsthand Korea’s history, economic development, and culture from the lens of the border of the 38th parallel.



The first few days, students explored the past of Korea, from the birth of the nation up to the history of contemporary times. The students visited Gyeongbok Palace, Gwanghwamun, National Museum of Korea, Hangeul Museum, Seoul Museum of History, Seodaemun prison, National Museum of Contemporary History, and Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). They were able to learn when North and South was one country to how it was divided.




The students also visited sites that reflected the present of Korea, such as Ajou Institute for Unification, Hana Foundation, Korean National Defense University, and the Constitutional Court of Korea. They learned how the division of the country has affected the current situation of South Korea. In Hana Foundation, they had the opportunity to exchange with North Korean defector students to discuss about the unification issue. At the Constitutional Court of Korea, they met with Judge Chang-ho Ahn, who was deeply involved in the impeachment of the previous president and learned about the political and judicial issues of South Korea.












To further learn about the issues in South Korea, they visited Future Consensus Institute to learn about South Korea’s position in the East Asian region, and witnessed the Wednesday protest for Comfort Women issues, visited the Women’s Human Rights Museum to learn about the historical and social issues of South Korea. On the final site visit day, the students visited Google Korea to learn about IT industry and the U.S. Embassy to learn about the U.S. approach to public diplomacy in South Korea.


At the end of the program, the students presented their portfolios based on the two-week program. Alexis Simms was awarded the prize for giving the best portfolio presentation. The Students’ portfolio presentations of summer 2018 can be found here

The Soh Jai Pil Circle on Contemporary Korean Affairs: David Kang, “North Korea in 2019: More of the Same, or a Historic Opportunity?”

On January 23rd, 2019, GWIKS invited Professor David Kang, director of the USC Korean Studies Institute and Maria Crutcher Professor of International Relations at the University of Southern California, to lecture on “North Korea in 2019: More of the same, or a historic opportunity?”. Moderated by Professor Celeste Arrington, David Kang began by claiming that deterrence has been and still is a successful tactic for North Korea. North Korea and the U.S. had repeatedly threatened and provoked each other, and boasted its military capabilities. Professor Kang argued that the situations have changed and that there is a substantial opportunity for a game changer, despite the conventional American view on North Korea –skepticism.

Dr. Kang claimed that North Korea’s recent actions are not spontaneous responses to sanctions and Trump’s threats, but rather a long-term strategy that North Korea had put in place. He presented Kim Jong-un’s New Year speech from 2017 that announced Kim’s commitments to provide for his people and prepare for ICBM and nuclear weapon. During Kim’s New Year speech a year later in 2018, Kim proclaimed that North Korea has achieved its long desired goal of “perfecting the national nuclear forces” through 59 missile and nuclear tests conducted in 2017. Dr. Kang explained that North Korea had been evidently planning such tactic for years. Previously North Korea’s strategy was “stop us before we g,” but in 2017, North Korea have presented that it has the capacity and potential for nuclear warfare. Along with North Korea’s long-prepared entry to the Olympics, North Korea’s tactics had opened the door for negotiation.

Dr. Kang then proceeded to discuss South Korea’s strategy by presenting a Gallup poll. The poll revealed that the majority of South Koreans and the Americans desired to solve North Korean nuclear problems through means of diplomacy, rather than military confrontation. South Korean President, Moon Jae-in’s policy agrees well with the demand of the public, as he has a progressive left-wing political orientation. Progressive South Korean presidents have historically attempted to rebuild and normalize relations with North Korea and Moon eventually engaged in multiple Inter-Korean summits with Kim Jong-un. Dr. Kang explained that South Korean policies toward North Korea include fundamentally stabilizing the DMZ in order to end the aggression between the two Koreas.

Dr. Kang claimed that the possibility of North Korea denuclearizing before any negotiations is slim to none, despite the motives of the U.S. However, North Korea had made small-scale progresses over the past year, such as ceasing nuclear tests for fourteen months, dismantling nuclear test sites, releasing arrested American citizens, and stopping many Anti-American propaganda. Dr. Kang claimed that it is crucial for the U.S. to take action and make progress with North Korea instead of remaining highly skeptical. He concluded the lecture by arguing that North Korea is not a problem to be solved. It is crucial to view it as a real country without deeply held and contradicting stereotypes about North Korea: North Koreans are brainwashed and that North Koreans desperately desire freedom. Americans often overlook the fact that North Koreans are people with powerful nationalist ideology.

Soh Jaipil Circle: “Providing Humanitarian Aid in North Korea and Other Authoritarian Settings.”

GWIKS hosted a Lecture Series on November 29th, 2018 with Christy Gavitt, a global health consultant, on “Providing Humanitarian Aid in North Korea and Other Authoritarian Settings.” Christy Gavitt had worked for Peace Corps, Private Voluntary Organization Consortium for North Korea (PVOC), and had visited both North and South Korea multiple times throughout her career. Moderated by Professor Gregg Brazinsky, Christy Gavitt shared with the audience her knowledge about the obstacles in making sure the humanitarian aid reaches those in need.

As a solution to tackle the obstacles previously mentioned, Gavitt suggested that aid organizations physically get in contact with the subjects of aid and get in-depth experience of the country. During 1998 and 1999, Gavitt had visited North Korea on a humanitarian aid project organized by five U.S. private non-profit relief and development organizations. The objective of the project was to support agricultural rehabilitation & reconstruction via food-for-work repairs of flood-damaged river and reservoir embankments in five provinces of North Korea.

Unemployed rural/peri-urban adult industrial/factory workers in four provinces received tasks to repair embankments in exchange of U.S. maize. Gavitt and her team visited the sites, monitored the workers, and evaluated the process and quality of the project. During her observation, she had discovered that there are far more workers than registered, small monitoring staff, and rigid restrictions on site visiting.

Gavitt then proceeded to discuss the famine crisis in North Korea. She explained that some of the causes of the longstanding famine are: lack of fuel to run equipment, lift irrigation systems, and factories, as well as decreased subsidies from China and Russia, on top of natural calamities. The harsh situation forced people of Pyongyang to leave for rural areas to grow their own food and large percentage the population to survive on mixture of amaranth plant, maize powder, grasses and herbs. Gavitt points out the consequential malnutrition and high mortality rates. The greatest challenge is that the North Korean government wants as little foreign involvement as possible and places stringent control on outsiders. This policy had caused some NGOs to pull out from North Korea because they felt that there were too much control over their movements and freedom. The NGOs that did remain focused on technically-oriented projects, limited media, and had built favorable relationship with the central and local authorities. Gavitt concluded the lecture by highlighting the significance of physical presence in authoritarian regions and building positive relationships.

December Blog Topic: Refugees in South Korea

Topic: Refugees in South Korea

Background: South Korea joined the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees in December of 1992 and became the first country in East Asia to have their own Refugee Act taking effect in 2013. Thousands of refugees from conflict zones such as Syria and Yemen seek asylum in South Korea today. Since the outbreak of war in Yemen in 2015 until 2017, only forty-nine Yemenis applied for asylum in South Korea. However, within 2018 alone, 561 escapees landed on Jeju Island as of June 20th, 549 of which applied for asylum. The majority of the refugees are young male from late teens to late 20s. This influx of the refugees ignited an uproar among South Koreans, which resulted in series of protests against entry of refugees where hundreds of South Koreans marched the streets of Seoul and Jeju Island in summer of 2018. According a poll survey conducted in July 2018, 53.4% of South Koreans opposed admitting the entry of Yemeni refugees. Petition demanding the Moon Jae-in administration to stop accepting refugees garnered over 700,000 signatures, the highest number since the Blue House opened its online petition system in 2017. Some of the proclaimed reasons behind the opposition were: cultural conflicts, likely increase in crime rates-especially sex crimes, potential terrorist attacks, and more competition in the already saturated job market. The Blue House responded to the petitions by including Yemen in the list of countries prohibited from entering Jeju Island visa-free, forbidding more Yemeni refugees from entering South Korea to claim refugee status. The Moon administration also prohibited refugees from leaving Jeju Island to enter mainland Korea. On August 1st, Justice Minister Park Sang-ki and the Blue House’s new media secretary, Chung Hye-seung affirmed that withdrawing from the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, the international treaty that sets forth basic international obligation toward refugees, nor would it abolish Jeju’s visa-free policy would be realistically problematic. However, in order to comply with the worries of South Koreans, Blue House promised to test refugees for drugs, screening them for a criminal record, and strengthening patrol in Jeju.


Guiding Questions:

– Some European countries, such as France, Germany, and United Kingdom had been accepting refugees long before South Korea. Considering the outcomes of preceding cases in Europe, can we predict the outcome of refugee entry in South Korea?

– What are some of the things to consider when providing asylum for refugees?

– South Korean reaction to Syrian and Yemeni refugees are quite different from that to North Korean defectors. What could be the reason for that?

– According to a recent survey, the groups that expressed strongest objections to refugee admission were: women (61%), middle-class (62%), and people in their 20s (70%) and 30s (66%). This is unusual because women and younger generation tend to lean left, the side more open to immigrants and refugees. Why do you think that these groups that usually comprise high percentage of more liberal values would also be the ones opposing strongest?


The questions above are only suggestions; please feel free to take your own creative approach to the topic!


Submission Instructions:

– Posts should be approximately 300-1,000 words.

– Submissions will be accepted until Saturday, January 5th. 

GW is committed to digital accessibility. If you experience a barrier that affects your ability to access content on this page, let us know via the Accessibility Feedback Form.