• You’ve probably heard the Korean War referred to as an unfinished conflict - but that’s not just a reference to the frozen war on the Peninsula. The sudden outbreak of war in 1950 and the rapid movement of the battlefront up and down the peninsula left countless people separated from their family members. Children separated from their parents - siblings losing one another in the chaos.

    The scale of this tragedy was so immense that reunions efforts by South Koreans to reunite with relatives within South Korea would be ongoing well into the 1980s. Of course, reuniting family members separated by the demilitarized zone between the Koreas proved more challenging - arguably increasingly so in the past two decades. Will there ever be closure for these last victims of the Korean War?

    Our guests today - Woodrow Wilson Center’s Soojin Park and Paul Lee from the U.S. Institute of Peace are intimately familiar with efforts by both governments and non-governmental organizations to reunite divided families. They are joined by Korea Economic Institute’s non-resident fellow and former special envoy for North Korea human rights issues.

    You can find the issues brief on divided families that Paul Lee drafted for the National Committee on North Korea here:


  • We often talk about whether the sanctions against North Korea are working. And we have spoken occasionally on this very podcast about the ways North Korea also cheats and gets around sanctions.

    But less frequently discussed at KEI or elsewhere in policymaking circles is whether it is ethical to impose the sanctions that we have on North Korea currently.

    To discuss this issue, we have with us today Dr. Hazel Smith, a professorial research associate in Korean studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies and Professor Emerita of International Security at Cranfield University.

    KEI Vice President Mark Tokola caught up with her for a discussion on this very important subject.

    You can read more on Dr. Hazel Smith's research in an article recently published on the Pacific Forum. Link to the article here: https://pacforum.org/publication/pacnet-24-the-destruction-of-north-korean-agriculture-we-need-to-rethink-un-sanctions

    Also, Hope to see you on Wednesday, August 5, for a joint webinar event with the Korea Institute for International Economic Policy on how we should think about global value chains in the context of COVID-19 and U.S.-China trade war. It will be an important discussion that charts where international trade might be headed in the coming years.

    RSVP here: https://share.hsforms.com/1NSpkIoKAQtyf6qjAi9wzEQ2ztzy

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  • North Korea is putting on a tough face as the world confronts the COVID-19 pandemic. Authorities in Pyongyang continue to reassure the rest of the world that nothing is wrong and that the country remains completely immune from the pandemic. And yet previous international crises - like the global rice panic of 2008 - had an outsized impact on North Korea because the country stands so precariously on the edge of economic collapse. Similarly, the country’s decision to close its borders to both goods and people in response to the pandemic is expected to have severe consequences on the livelihood of many people.

    Simultaneously, the country has also been maintaining diplomatic isolation - waving away overtures from South Korea and demolishing the inter-Korean liaison office that had symbolized the great advances made since the summits between Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong-un in 2018.

    But now, Pyongyang faces a tough decision - will it maintain this isolation even as South Korean voters extend overwhelming support to its pro-engagement administration, and as the United States prepares for an election where Donald Trump - the U.S. president who has extended legitimacy to the North Korean leadership - faces a very tough competition?

    To discuss Pyongyang’s strategic choices at this critical juncture, we have with us today, Markus Garlauskas - a former U.S. National Intelligence Officer for North Korea. KEI Senior Director Troy Stangarone caught up with him for a quick discussion.

    Staying on the subject of North Korea, KEI will host Dr. Hazel Smith on July 28, 2020 at 2 p.m. EDT for a discussion on the ethics of international sanctions on North Korea - she asks whether the illegality of North Korea’s nuclear arsenal justifies the current pressures placed on the country by the international community.

    You can RSVP for the event here:


  • Since Donald Trump took over as president in 2017, the United States has been retreating from the world - and from the Indo-Pacific region more specifically. Most notably, the country has backed out from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the nuclear agreement with Iran, and the Paris Climate Agreement.

    How do countries in the Indo-Pacific region see the diminishing role of the United States on the global and regional stage?

    Korea Economic Institute Senior Director Troy Stangarone spoke with Professor Gordon Flake on the views from Australia - one of America’s closest and oldest allies in the Western Pacific. He explains why the Trump administration’s isolation has been particularly concerning to Australia and what roles middle powers like Australia and South Korea have taken up at this time.

    We have an exciting upcoming event at KEI next week - Former National Intelligence Officer for North Korea Markus Garlauskas will join us for a conversation on how COVID-19 has become a factor in North Korea’s engagement with the United States - and what the impending U.S. presidential election means for negotiations going forward.

    You will find the RSVP here: https://share.hsforms.com/1a-RlfE_oQLuohzb5rvfcow2ztzy

  • Looking back on the Korean War, one might assume that the outbreak of a violent conflict that killed millions of people would preclude the possibility of a peaceful resolution of the division on the peninsula. Surprisingly, however, there was an effort in 1954 - only a year after the armistice that halted military engagements in Korea - to resolve the Korea question through diplomacy.

    It’s not a secret that this conference failed to resolve the issues - but it was nonetheless historic. And while the international environment has changed drastically since, the lessons that the meeting offers to summit goers today is critical.

    Our guest today is KEI Vice President Mark Tokola, who has done extensive research into this event using declassified state department documents.

    If you are interested in reading up more about this event, you can find Mark Tokola’s full research paper here: http://www.theasanforum.org/9324-2/

  • It would not be an exaggeration to claim that the Korean War shaped world history. There had been bloodshed elsewhere that bookmarked the start of the bitter conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union that would rage until 1991 - but it was Korea where the conflict was most pronounced.

    But this pivotal event - as we observe it today in retrospect is also often deeply flawed.

    We assume that the Korean War left the United States and South Korea closer together - military allies that would go on to fight together in Vietnam and the Middle East. And we assume that North Korea was determined to try their luck at a military invasion of South Korea again. History could not be further from the truth - the early years of the U.S.-Korea alliance were tenuous - one that was not expected to last too long - and the North Korean regime focused on developing its economy to garner legitimacy vis-a-vis their rival state in Seoul.

    Discussing this and more, we have Professors James Person and William Stueck.

    Just as a quick heads up, we have a really exciting event next week with Dr. Gordon Flake on what it means for Australia and South Korea to attend the G7 summit and what roles they might play in the geopolitical tension between China and the United States.

    RSVP Here: https://share.hsforms.com/1xwC-DeCIRJ2JlQWXaum_wA2ztzy

  • The international force that answered the United Nation's call to defend the Republic of Korea between 1950 and 1953 did more than engage in combat with North Korean and Chinese soldiers. In December 1950, American troops at the port city of Hungnam rescued 100,000 Korean refugees - even as they faced enemy fire and a bitter Korean winter.

    One of the officers who were critical to what would be known as the “Hungnam Evacuation” was Colonel Edward Forney. In 2017, Colonel Forney's grandson, Ned Forney, was invited to Washington, DC to take part in a ceremony at the National Marine Corps Museum's new memorial for those who undertook rearguard action to buy time and space for the evacuation. Korean Kontext’s then-host Jenna Gibson had an opportunity to sit down with him for a conversation about Colonel Edward Forney and how South Korea’s current president, Moon Jae-in, is personally tied to this story.

  • June 25, 2020 marks the 70th anniversary of the start of the Korean War. The conflict on the Korean Peninsula has been going on for so long that we sometimes see it as a natural extension of the Second World War - But we forget that the tragic division was one that no one had planned or wanted.

    So how did the Koreas end up becoming two countries if neither the United States or the Soviet Union had wanted this to happen?

    To take us back to those fateful early years of the Cold War, we caught up with historian Charles Kraus. He is the deputy director of the History and Public Policy Programs at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. The Wilson Center’s digital archives recently curated a series of declassified documents from the Soviet Union that reveal what the country’s chief policymakers, including Stalin, expected on the Korean Peninsula at the end of the Second World War. These documents weave a complex story of missed opportunities and misaligned intentions that ultimately yielded a tragedy.

    Please consider visiting the Wilson Center’s digital archives: https://digitalarchive.wilsoncenter.org/

    And here are some articles by Charles Krause:

    "Failed Diplomacy: Soviet-American Relations and the Division of Korea" (https://www.wilsoncenter.org/blog-post/failed-diplomacy-soviet-american-relations-and-division-korea)

    "Preparing for War: Soviet-North Korean Relations, 1947-1950" (https://www.wilsoncenter.org/blog-post/preparing-war-soviet-north-korean-relations-1947-1950)

    "China, North Korea, and the Origins of the Korean War" (https://www.wilsoncenter.org/blog-post/china-north-korea-and-origins-korean-war)

    And please check out the just-published issue of the Wilson Quarterly, which focuses on the Korean War. You can find a link to the issue, again, in the description of this episode. https://www.wilsonquarterly.com/quarterly/korea-70-years-on/

    On Wednesday June 24, KEI is hosting Cold War scholars James Person and William Stueck for a historical perspective on how the Korean War shaped the geopolitical tensions in Asia and how they continue to affect the current security environment in the region. Please RSVP here: https://share.hsforms.com/1D6rEUgx6QqOGAMwq5rOMfQ2ztzy

  • On June 25, 1950, North Korea launched a surprise invasion against South Korea and started a war that has not yet been formally ended.

    It was almost a short war.

    The North Korean invasion force consisted of more than a hundred Soviet tanks and an air force – all armaments that had devastated the German army on the eastern front during the Second World War only 5 years previously. By contrast, the South Korean army had no tanks and an air force composed solely of reconnaissance planes.

    Predictably, South Korea’s capital Seoul fell in three days. And by August, the North Korean forces had nearly reached the southern port city of Busan – the last pocket of territory held by the Republic of Korea. And had it not been for the intervention of the United Nations forces, South Korea as we know it would not exist.

    This episode is a rebroadcast of an interview with Colonel John Stevens, a veteran of the Korean War who fought at the Battle of the Nakdong River to defend that last pocket of South Korean resistance around the port of Busan. He also participated in the amphibious landing at Inchon that turned the tide of the war.

    Colonel Stevens is also a veteran of World War 2. You can read more about his incredible military career in this article: https://nedforney.com/index.php/2018/09/28/john-stevens-marine-wwii-korean-war/

    Also, stay tuned after the interview for a letter from Ambassador Kathleen Stevens.

  • The pandemic has been going on for so long that international affairs observers nearly forgot that two of America’s closest allies in one of the most consequential regions in the world have been locked in a bitter dispute since 2018.

    South Korea believes that its citizens who were victims of forced labor under Japanese occupation between 1910 and 1945 have the right to pursue legal cases against private companies that exploited their bodies. Japan believes that they do not have such rights. And both countries have been exchanging barbs that did not fully dissipate with the outbreak of COVID-19.

    Indeed, things might actually get worse in the coming months. On June 1, South Korean courts secured legal grounds to liquidate assets of Japanese steelmaker Nippon Steel that are held in South Korea - and use them to compensate forced labor victims. The seized assets are not a lot of money for a conglomerate like Nippon Steel - approximately USD 330,000. But what is on the line is not money, but historical narrative.

    Our guest today is University of Connecticut Professor Alexis Dudden who is the author of the fantastic book on this very subject titled “Troubled Apologies Among Japan, Korea, and the United States.” She joins KEI Vice President Mark Tokola for a timely conversation that highlights how these tensions are rising at a particularly bad moment in international relations - and why controversies over history between Korea and Japan are so difficult to address in the context of the respective countries’ domestic politics.

    You can find Dr. Dudden's book here: http://cup.columbia.edu/book/troubled-apologies-among-japan-korea-and-the-united-states/9780231141765

    And you can sign up for KEI's weekly newsletter here: https://share.hsforms.com/1WiX_to9IRh-DlnV68MV0sg2ztzy

  • While the rest of the world is still struggling to contain the outbreak of COVID-19, South Korea - progressing steadily in its containment of the pandemic - has begun its season of baseball. With the Major League Baseball season postponed in the United States, ESPN has begun airing the Korean Baseball Organization’s games in America.

    It is a seminal moment. Koreans are bringing baseball back to its homeland and showcasing what their league looks like. Potentially a harbinger for greater exchange of players between the two nations.

    In light of this development, we have today a panel of Korean baseball experts, including former player Eric Hacker and agent Esther Lee, to discuss and highlight the 101 of the league and the sport in Korea. Our guest host, former U.S. ambassador to Korea Mark Lippert, moderates this discussion.

    You can also find Troy Stangarone’s Diplomat column on the Korean Baseball Organization here: https://thediplomat.com/2019/06/should-amateur-baseball-players-go-pro-in-south-korea-and-japan/

  • Even in some fantastical scenario where Kim Jong-un suddenly decides to give up nuclear weapons and end his regime’s flagrant disregard for human rights, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea will still be an impoverished state where less than half the country’s population has access to electricity.

    How will North Korea climb out of this state of destitution? Identifying the challenges that the country faces is a vital first step. And that is precisely what a new report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development does. This first stand-alone report on North Korea from the OECD takes stock of what is holding back the country today and provides guidelines on what might be needed to turn the country onto a path to prosperity.

    Randall Jones, a Non-Resident Fellow at the Korea Economic Institute, a Visiting Fellow at Columbia University, and formerly the head of the Japan/Korea Desk at the OECD sat down with Vincent Koen, the head of the division of country studies at the OECD to discuss this new report.

    You can read the OECD report here: https://read.oecd-ilibrary.org/economics/north-korea-the-last-transition-economy_82dee315-en

    Also report on North Korea’s special economic zones that Vincent mentioned in the episode: http://www.keia.org/sites/default/files/publications/kei_aps_clement_190604_final.pdf

    And an interview with the author of the report on the special economic zones here: https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-hrrpz-b495f4

    Finally, you can find the RSVP for the May 26 webinar discussion with Dr. Alexis Dudden on what lies ahead for Korea-Japan relations here: https://share.hsforms.com/1je0Ns2CoRG2MJZZLbsm5ug2ztzy

  • International observers were shocked when President Trump met with North Korea’s Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un in June 2018. But amid the spectacle of these two leaders putting aside their infamous barbs and insults, there was another shock awaiting the public. President Trump announced that joint military exercises with South Korea would be postponed on account of their costliness and their unnecessarily provocative nature. This had not been consulted with South Korea beforehand.

    That was 2018 when people thought perhaps a peace treaty with North Korea was just around the corner. Two years on, there is no treaty, North Korea has not budged on its nuclear weapons arsenal, and in fact Pyongyang is beginning to act more provocatively. And yet, the old joint military exercises between South Korea and the United States have not resumed.

    Would the forces be ready in case there is a conflict? This is the question that our guest, Professor Terence Roehrig seeks to answer today. He is a professor of National Security Affairs at the U.S. Naval War College and recently authored a paper for KEI titled: “ROK-U.S. Exercises and Denuclearizing North Korea: Diplomacy or Readiness?” which you can find here: http://www.keia.org/sites/default/files/publications/kei_aps_2020_roehrig_200422.pdf

    The episode today is from a web discussion between Professor Roehrig and KEI’s Director of Academic Affairs Kyle Ferrier.

    You can also RSVP for our upcoming discussion with Andray Abrahamian on Tuesday, May 19 on how we might be able to better understand developments in North Korea here: https://share.hsforms.com/1NMB8QG0YSS-TpoEnz6d0FQ2ztzy

    And RSVP for the panel discussion on Thursday, May 21 featuring former U.S. ambassador to Seoul Mark Lippert on the implications of ESPN broadcasting Korean baseball in the United States here: https://share.hsforms.com/13tmr1-R2Qtiz3XFvIcm1cg2ztzy

  • After weeks of keeping the international community spellbound with his sudden disappearance and rumors of his death, Kim Jong-un has reemerged in public. But this whole event raised a very important question in people’s minds. Who would succeed North Korea’s supreme leader if he were to die?

    It’s clear to even people without medical degrees that Kim Jong-un is not the healthiest bloke on the international stage - a heart attack would not be out of the question. What would happen to North Korea then? Who would command the country’s one-million strong military and nuclear arsenal?

    Our guests today, Ken Gause and Chris Steinitz from the Adversary Analytics Program at CNA, outline potential outcomes.

    As a quick caveat, the discussion was recorded before news emerged of Kim Jong-un’s public appearance, but the question of what might happen if the North Korean leader were to be suddenly incapacitated is still important to consider now more than ever.

    You can find Ken and Chris' article here: http://blog.keia.org/2020/04/post-kim-jong-un-regime/

    Please also consider RSVPing for our event on May 12 with former US Forces Korea Commander Walter Skip Sharp: https://share.hsforms.com/1H3P0Pa_BRpeosIKM_-jSHQ2ztzy

    And our event on May 13 with researchers from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development on the current state of the North Korean economy: https://share.hsforms.com/1Ypu6JeeoTbui-FSoO26Ahw2ztzy

  • Where in the world is Kim Jong-un? The dictator of North Korea who appears so fond of being filmed and photographed has disappeared from sight - and there are rumors that he is possibly dead. Social media, in particular, has turned the event into a meme, adding cultural references such as Game of Thrones to frame imaginary scenarios on what might follow in the vacuum left by the late supreme leader.

    But for those who have been watching North Korea for a while, this is not a new occurrence. Leaders of this most opaque state have disappeared in the past. Our guest today, KEI Vice President Mark Tokola - a veteran of the US foreign service and former Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. embassy in Seoul - remembers those incidents. And with history as an added guide, he provides a more sober analysis of the ongoing mystery around the whereabouts of Kim Jong-un.

    You can find Mark Tokola's article on this topic here: http://blog.keia.org/2020/04/kim-regimes-two-disappearances-funeral/

    In addition, please find the RSVP for our discussion with Col. David Maxwell on potential instability in North Korea: https://share.hsforms.com/1sq5iU-1HSBuh9vCm4hpX_A2ztzy

  • On April 7, the American state of Wisconsin held an election to decide who would be the Democratic Party’s nominee for the US presidential election in November 2020. The days leading up to the election were chaotic with the state’s Democratic governor calling for a postponement of the state-wide election out of public health concerns and the state’s Republican-controlled legislature challenging this order. Ultimately, the election went ahead - and health officials note that, to date, at least 19 people infected with COVID-19 in the state of Wisconsin can trace their exposure to the election.

    The following week, on April 15, a very differently-run election took place in South Korea. All 300 seats in South Korea’s unicameral legislature were up for grabs and South Koreans went to the polls in greater numbers than they had since 1992 to elect a new National Assembly.

    Meticulous plans had been made, including measures to ensure that voters would be able to maintain social distancing at polling stations; that voting booths would be regularly wiped down, and that self-quarantined citizens would be able to vote after polling stations were closed to regular voters.

    Perhaps equally impressive was the outcome - a landslide victory for President Moon Jae-in’s Democratic Party - which now controls 180 seats in parliament, a full three-fifth of the chamber.

    In this episode, Former National Assemblyman Song Hochang, Chosun Ilbo Deputy Editor Kang Insun, and Scott Snyder discuss both how South Koreans held the election and what the political impact of the results would be for the incumbent Moon Jae-in administration.

    This episode is an excerpt from a public webinar on April 16. You can watch the full event on KEI's YouTube channel here: https://youtu.be/5_8WpGnpnkU

    You can also RSVP to KEI's webinar on April 30 on the impact of COVID-19 in North Korea here: https://share.hsforms.com/5031070/5ea46576-d84a-4e39-8f71-888679fd9c3f

  • Few alliances in the world are as storied and robust as the U.S.-Korea alliance. Building on the security relationship established at the end of the Korean War, the partnership between the two countries have since expanded to trade, science and technology, human rights, and elsewhere.

    And in particular, we saw the public health cooperation between the two countries in the joint effort to contain and treat Ebola during the 2014 outbreak in West Africa.

    So what has the partnership looked like between the two countries in the ongoing effort to contain COVID-19?

    To discuss this collaboration, our guest today is the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Korea and Japan Marc Knapper. A member of the Senior Foreign Service of the U.S. Department of State, his previous postings have included Tokyo, Hanoi, and Baghdad - but most notably for the discussion today, he served as the Chargé d’Affaires at the U.S. embassy in Seoul from 2017 to 2018 and Deputy Chief of Mission from 2015 to 2016.

  • Should the international community suspend advocacy for human rights in favor of cooperation with odious regimes to fight the COVID-19 pandemic?

    This appears upon first glance like a trade-off, but Ambassador Robert King and Greg Scarlatoiu make the case that they are not - in fact, robust human rights is fundamental to containing an infectious disease. They focus in particular on North Korea, whose human rights abuses are actually what makes the country more susceptible to COVID-19 than other countries.

    This podcast is an excerpt from a webinar event on human rights in North Korea, which you can find here: https://youtu.be/Tq_5r9a-68I

  • We are amidst a pandemic - its victims will not only be the sick but also those who will lose their livelihood as the economy shuts down to contain the further spread of the disease. A body of research, including those published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior, notes that after old age and pre-existing health conditions, low socioeconomic status acts as the top variable that could determine your susceptibility to epidemics. In the context of COVID-19, available data suggest that COVID-19 can be about twice as deadly for those in society’s lower rungs.

    At this critical moment, governments around the world are struggling to find ways to ensure both economic security and safety.

    Our guests today, KEI Senior Director Troy Stangarone and Director Kyle Ferrier, are tracking how South Korea is confronting this challenge. For policymakers and leaders of corporations in the United States, Seoul’s economic response - alongside those of European states - are sure to have some relevant policy lessons for their own response.

    You can find Troy and Kyle’s recent articles on South Korea’s response to the economic fallout of the pandemic here:





    Please also consider watching our recent event video on the state of human rights in North Korea. Ambassador Robert King and Committee for Human Rights in North Korea executive director Greg Scarlatoiu note how human rights violations in the country - like mass detention and information repression - will compromise public health in the face of COVID-19.

    You can find the event video here:


  • How does a company that began as a vegetable and fish shop grow to become a leading global tech company - what made that astonishing growth possible, and what are some of the unseen costs of that blinding development? Perhaps just as importantly for American audiences, what are the implications of such a company on the society that it inhabits?

    To discuss this and much more, we are joined by Geoffrey Cain, a longtime journalist whose work has appeared in The Economist, Time and The Wall Street Journal. Geoffrey is also a regular commentator on Bloomberg TV, BBC, CNN, and NPR.

    His newest book Samsung Rising - published by Currency, an imprint of Random House - tracks the rise of Korea’s leading brand name from the time of Korea’s colonial occupation in the 1930s to its aggressive rise to become the largest smartphone maker in the world.