On September 10 – 11, 2020, the GW Institute for Korea (GWIKS), Sigur Center for Asian Studies, and the KDI School of Public Policy and Management co-hosted a virtual international conference in commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the Korean War. During the two-day conference, recognized experts revisited and presented new approaches to the history of the Korean war.
The event started off with congratulatory remarks from Iliana Feldman, the Interim Dean of the GW Elliott School of International Affairs, Jong-Il You, the Dean of the KDI School of Public Policy and Management, and Soo Hyuck Lee, the Ambassador of the Republic of Korea to the US, highlighting the importance of international cooperation. Professor Keun-Sik Jung from Seoul National University analyzed the conditions for peace by taking a multi-lateral approach and suggested that East Asia needs a mutually recognizing peace – including the normalization of the intra-Korea relationship and also between the US and North Korea.
Following the introductory session, was ‘The Korean War and Its Impact on Civilians’ session. Moderated by Gregg Brazinsky, Professor of History and International Affairs at GW, three professors each from Canada, South Korea and the US presented their insights into the war, going beyond the military and political aspect, and focusing on the lives of Korean people who had to endure through the war. All three speakers spoke in relations to the structure of power: Assistant Professor Jeongmin Kim from the University of Manitoba, elaborated on the creation of a black market in the exchange of US Military Payment Certificates and Korean/Japanese sexual labor; and the government’s deliberate ignorance on the issue; Professor Janice Kim from York University introduced her research on what the Korean War meant to the regional people. Lastly, Professor Hak Jae Kim, from Seoul National University, emphasized the importance of common commemoration effort and continuation of a peacemaking endeavor under the structure of international power hierarchy.
On the second day, Professor William Stueck from the University of Georgia moderated the second session of the conference: ‘New Approaches to Studying the Roles of Foreign Powers and POW’s’. Professor Avram Agov from Langara College shared his research on the impact of the Korean War to socialist countries and socialist countries’ humanitarian aid to North Korea. David Chang form Hong Kong University of Science and Technology focused his presentation on his book ‘The Hijacked War’, arguing that the Chinese prisoners of war (POWs) hijacked the Korean War.
The conference concluded with a roundtable discussion pondering on the outlook of the peace process in the Korean Peninsula. Panelists pinpointed the significance of overcoming different narratives of the war, the economic gap, and psychological warfare. They also discussed the role of feminism in the negotiation process, the US and its approach tactics and ideologies in Asian politics, and the danger of falling into binary identities. The discussion ended with many agreeing that it is important to actually have both South Korea and North Korea come together to reach a peace settlement.