Tag Archive | "aid"

Three Dilemmas of Dealing with North Korea

By Mark Tokola

Short conversations about North Korea generally end with similar conclusions: it is too soon to tell whether Kim Jong-un has successfully entrenched himself; the North Korean economy whether by design or necessity has introduced some market elements; China is growing impatient with North Korea’s unpredictability and belligerency; and Kim Jung-un’s regime is even more brutal and repressive than his father’s.  The level of purges and numbers of executions is unprecedented, even for North Korea.  The regime’s fixation with building amusement parks while much of its population goes malnourished is the epitome of how far a dictator can place whims above necessities. That much, at least, attracts a consensus of opinion.

It takes a longer conversation to reveal the fault-lines and seams in opinion among experts regarding what should be done in regard to North Korea.  There is a weight of opinion, but without unanimity, that urgency is beginning to ratchet up.  The DPRK’s nuclear and missile programs are closer to producing weapons which can threaten other countries.  In truth, Seoul has been within the range of North Korean artillery for decades, but longer-range North Korean weaponry carrying nuclear warheads would alter broader, strategic equations regardless whether they could reach the United States. The United Nations Commission of Inquiry (COI) report on human rights violations in North Korea is making it increasingly difficult for the international community to avert its eyes from the regime’s widespread and systematic abuses of its own people, which are likely to be counted as crimes against humanity.  The prospect of unification of the Korean peninsula is being discussed more seriously than it has been for years.  The most surprising outcome of the change that seems to be in the air would be if the situation on the Korean peninsula remained as it is for another generation.  Hence, the need to talk about North Korea with increasing seriousness.

Two such longer conversations about North Korea were held first, at the June 2-6 Salzburg Global Seminar on “International Responses to Crimes Against Humanity: The Challenge of North Korea,” and second, at the Annual Conference of the International Council on Korean Studies (ICKS) held at Georgetown University from June 25-26 on “Unification of the Korean Peninsula: Issues and Opportunities.”  The Salzburg Seminar was held under the Chatham House rule and therefore remarks by the participants are not to be publicly attributed to them without their permission, but what they discussed can be shared.  Confidentiality was necessary in order to have a free-flowing and frank conversation among the government and private sector experts who attended the seminar.  The Seminar ended with an agreed public statement outlining specific steps that should be taken by governments, private organizations, and concerned individuals to improve the human rights situation in North Korea. The ICKS conference by contrast was a public meeting and will be made available on the KEI website.

During long conversations among experts on North Korea, three questions often surface, the answers to which have practical consequences: Is it better to engage North Korea or to isolate it?  Is there a choice to be made regarding whether to prioritize North Korea’s strategic threat or its human rights record?  And, which is the higher goal, peace or justice?  The answer to each of the questions may be “It depends,” “That is a false choice,” or “This isn’t black and white, the best policy lies along a spectrum.”  In any case, the questions are not ones that can be ignored.

Engagement or Isolation?

If the goal is to change North Korea’s behavior, is that more likely to come about through interacting with the North Korean government, or through refusing to have anything to do with it until its behavior changes?  The answers depends upon a series of further, refining questions:  are we talking about government-to-government, diplomatic engagement? humanitarian assistance and other NGO engagement? or people-to-people engagement (and is that even possible with a country as totalitarian as North Korea)?

The question of diplomatic engagement already seems to have an answer.  Both the South Korean and U.S. governments have said that they are willing to engage in talks with North Korea.  President Park says she is prepared to hold talks without preconditions, but rejects North Korea’s requirement that U.S.-ROK military exercises be cancelled before it is willing to meet.  North Korea has called for “unconditional” talks with the U.S. but then conditioned the unconditional talks by saying that they would have to be held without reference to North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.  In essence, the path is open for diplomatic engagement should North Korea choose to take it.  Demanding that South Korea end its military exercise while continuing to conduct its own, and insisting that the U.S. abandon its primary objective, getting North Korea to abide by the international obligations it undertook regarding its nuclear program, seem to show a lack of enthusiasm for diplomacy on North Korea’s part.

An alternative might be to make unilateral gestures towards North Korea in hope that North Korea might respond positively.  It seems likely, however, that the Kim Jung-un government is not firmly enough on its feet to be able to respond to concessions, whether a reduction in sanctions or a pause in U.S.-ROK military exercises.  Absent a signal from Pyongyang that it was truly interested in a negotiation, a unilateral concession from Seoul or Washington would only reduce the number of bargaining chips available for future talks, making them more difficult.

For organizations that provide or might provide assistance to North Koreans, there are serious practical and ethical questions regarding their unavoidable interaction with the North Korean government.  On one hand, the humanitarian need for nutritional supplements and medicine is great.  The cost of saving a life in North Korea is less than in other struggling countries because the base line is so low.  On the other, does providing assistance merely serve to extend the life of an abhorrent regime?  Do outside resources allow it to channel its resources to prison camps and nuclear weapons programs?

One NGO has given up and pulled out of North Korea.  The problem was not that its resources were being diverted to the government, but that the government was controlling the population that the NGO in question was serving.  The government in effect chose the people whom the NGO would help.  The people being served were needy, but not the neediest or most vulnerable population in North Korea.  Because the baseline principle of the organization was that it would serve those most in need of assistance, it deemed that it could not continue.  Other organizations have decided otherwise, that providing assistance to anyone in need was worth doing if possible.

There are other considerations in deciding whether to engage with humanitarian assistance or not.  One is the theory of “feeding the executioner.”  The idea is that if the international community did not provide assistance to the needy in North Korea, neither would the North Korean government.  Belief that Pyongyang would fill the gap left by decisions of NGOs not to operate in North Korea is naïve.  In fact, the DPRK government would be more likely to extract what it could from its most vulnerable populations to support its programs rather than to assist them.  If everyone has enough food, the government will not have to take any from the people to give to the ruling class and army.  If everyone has too little, the government will take what it can from the population.  Providing humanitarian assistance, therefore, prevents the DPRK from further preying on its own people.

Finally there is the notion of investing in the future through humanitarian assistance.  Providing help to the people of North Korea now will make unification of the peninsula easier when it occurs.  A healthier, better-educated North Korean population will be easier to accommodate into a unified Korea than one that is stunted and unable to work.  In the end, everyone has to decide for themselves whether their engagement with North Korea is a good idea and what compromises they are prepared to make to achieve their goals.  The term “principled engagement” is often used.

Even people-to-people engagement is a tougher calculation than we would all wish.  It would be nice to think that all contacts that can be arranged with North Koreans — whether government officials, sports figures, or artists – are bound at least to give them a better impression of us, and at most to raise questions in their minds about the state of their own country and whether it might be different.  That may even be true.  However, there is another side to the argument.  The costs of people-to-people engagements may be that they give the North Korean government propaganda points to argue to their own people that the Kim Jong-un regime is indeed internationally accepted and admired.  Second, the DPRK has complete control over who gets to participate in people-to-people programs.  If they are being used to reward the party faithful, does that make them little more than treats which can be dispensed to maintain loyalty to the regime?  There is no easy answer.

The Strategic Threat versus Human Rights

So long at the DPRK argues that it will never abandon its nuclear weapons program and that its population enjoys the world’s highest level of human rights, there is no reason not to press the DPRK on both issues.  It should abide by its commitments to not pursue nuclear weaponry and should accept the UN COI recommendations on how to put an end to its abuses of the rights of its citizens.  It could, and should, do both.

However, it is possible to imagine a different situation.  What if the DPRK expressed a willingness to engage in negotiations on its nuclear program, but only if the international community would stop trying to undermine the government by charging it with human rights violations?  Why would members of a government who were being threatened with being sent to the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity agree to negotiate with their prosecutors?  Being afraid to travel for fear of being arrested would make protracted negotiations impossible.

This is a dilemma that posits a situation different from the one we are in with North Korea, but among the DPRK’s few international defenders, there are voices who argue that the choice is already upon us.  We should accept right now the DPRK as a sovereign, “normal,” state rather than treating it as an outlaw.  Sanctions should be ended and serious negotiations should begin to reduce regional tensions.  After all, they argue, the greatest violation of human rights would be general warfare on the Korean peninsula rather than the selective if unfortunate actions by the DPRK against disruptive individuals in its quest to maintain domestic order.

One argument that may tip the balance towards those who argue that accountability for crimes against humanity cannot be negotiated away is the weight of international opinion.  The Six Party Talks have six parties because they (South Korea, North Korea, the U.S., Russia, and China) have the dominant stake in the strategic stability of the peninsula.  The circle of countries who have an interest in human rights is far broader.  It should be possible to enlist democracies such as India, South Africa, Brazil, and others in an international effort to pressure North Korea to improve its human rights situation.  Not only North Korea, but its chief patron, China, have shown sensitivity to wider international opinion beyond what the U.S. and its close allies have to say.  The human rights situation in North Korea is, or should be, a global concern.  That is reason enough to keep it on the agenda with North Korea.

Peace or Justice?

The call usually goes up for peace and justice, but what if they are not compatible in regard to North Korea?  This dilemma is similar to that of strategic threat versus human rights, but different.  It most likely would surface in regard to unification.  Under any unification scenario (usually boiled down to peaceful and negotiated, or following a collapse of the DPRK) it will be necessary to deal with the crimes against humanity that have been committed by North Korean authorities.  Will the priority be to quickly reach a peaceful situation by giving amnesty to those who might otherwise resist unification, or to give justice its chance to do its slower work to determine crime and punishment?  In the longer term, will the many North Korean mid and low-level authorities be given the right to resume positions of authority in a unified Korea, or will they be forever excluded?  Peace may argue one answer, justice another.

The UN’s COI report is legally correct in its carefully worded finding of “reasonable grounds to establish that crimes against humanity have been committed.”  The rule of law requires that the facts and judgment be weighed through a trial process, not though a presumption of guilt.  The “reasonable grounds” are strong enough that the COI recommends a Security Council referral to the International Criminal Court, but the report is light on naming names or identifying institutions of those who should be tried.  It is for this reason that a UNHCHR Field Office began operating in Seoul this June.  Its purpose is to collect evidence for use in  future prosecutions, whether international, Korea, or hybrid.

There is much to be decided in regards to eventually holding North Korean authorities accountable for crimes committed by the regime.  Which authorities, at what level, and with what degree of culpability should be tried and for what crimes?  This is an issue that will need to be decided primarily by the unified Korea, but the international community also has a stake in the prosecution of crimes against humanity.  The Nuremburg trials, and the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) are examples, if imperfect models, of how justice might be done.  Other countries that have emerged from conflict have opted for ‘peace and reconciliation commissions,’ to make sense of what they have been through.  Maybe in the case of Korea both will be needed: criminal trials to establish guilt among those most responsible for the human rights abuses, and peace and reconciliation organizations to help all Koreans come to terms with living in a shared Korea.

One future benefit of the justice system is that it will establish a common, evidence-based history of Korea from 1954 to the date of unification.  In the case of Yugoslavia, the ICTY has created an invaluable collection of first-person, sworn testimony offered by all sides that will help settle future disagreements about the true story of their tragic recent history.  One of the problems in dealing with the ongoing tensions in Northern Ireland is that there is no common historic database of fact shared by the unionists and the nationalists, leaving each with its own version of history.  The court records of the Korean human rights trials, when they come, will help people come to terms with their past better than any government-organized, official history.

Well-informed, well-intentioned people can disagree over how to deal with North Korea.  Discussing the common dilemmas can help them make their individual decisions.  The stakes are high.  Today’s decisions on engagement immediately affect the lives of people living in North Korea.  Coming to terms in advance with the issues that will follow unification will increase the odds that the process of unification will be less costly and painful than might otherwise be the case.  Unification of the peninsula will improve the lives of millions.  The process of getting there will require the best that South Korea and her allies can do.

Mark Tokola is the Vice President of the Korea Economic Institute of America. The views expressed here are his own.

Photo from Niels Sienaert’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

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Excerpts of an Interview on the Humanitarian Situation in North Korea

Troy Stangarone of the Korea Economic Institute of America (KEI) recently interviewed Jérome Sauvage, the Deputy Director of the United Nations Development Program’s Representation Office in Washington, DC and previously the UN Coordinator in the DPRK, on the humanitarian situation in North Korea for KEI’s Korean Kontext podcast series. In the interview, Deputy Director Sauvage discusses life in North Korea and the humanitarian challenges the population faces from a lack of food, potable water, electricity, and a collapsed healthcare system. The following is an excerpt of that discussion.

Stangarone: When we think about the well being of a society, it is more than simply nutrition and the agricultural sector. One area that is obviously important is the public healthcare system. What do we know about the current state of the healthcare system in North Korea and how it’s able to address the healthcare needs of the population?

Sauvage: I can tell you that the healthcare system is unable to provide any kind of healthcare services to the population. It has collapsed. Today, basically, you are talking about no equipment. And I mean for example, certainly no heat and no water in the hospitals, and no supplies. No anesthesia. Most deliveries are done in a natural way, so the health system is basically broken.

Stangarone: You had mentioned issues with water. Water is essentially the basis of life. What is the current state of water supplies and sanitation? Obviously, diseases can be carried through unsanitary water. How does that impact the population?

Sauvage: One of their problems has been that they used to have a pretty good system, good pipes, up until the 90s. So, basically, now you have these pipes that are broken and you will have the sanitation system and the water supply system basically mixing and getting people very sick…Its comparable to some the most difficult cases that we have in other countries in the developing world.

Stangarone: One of the interesting things I saw once was that companies are now doing much more corporate social responsibility work. And, one of the things that I thought was interesting is the point where business interests and community interests overlap.  Coke when they go around the world, because it costs far more than it would be worth produce Coke in the United States and to essentially take water and ship it overseas, when they build the plants [overseas] they often take and do sanitation issues with the water. Given the level of sanctions and everything, it might be difficult for Coke to set up in North Korea, even if North Korea wanted them to come in, but should we be trying to encourage or look for, because North Korea is looking for Western investment, trying to match up companies that might have a corporate social welfare interest as well in North Korea with their own economic interests?

Sauvage: Yeah, it’s interesting that you mentioned Coke, because the UNDP works with Coke. Not in North Korea, but in quite a few place to work on water sanitation issues. This is one of our best partnerships and so I really like when you are mentioning this. Yes, if there was a space for corporate social responsibility for firms to come in and assist. Obviously, South Korean firms have done a little bit in the past, I think, that would be wonderful. It’s just that for the moment really is hardly any foreign investment in the country. But if South Korean firms could come and do work on that it would be very good.

The full interview with Deputy Director Jérome Sauvage of the United Nations Development Program’s Representation Office in Washington, DC is available on the Korean Kontext website. The views expressed in the interview are the interviewer and interviewee’s alone. The text represented here should not be considered an official transcript of the interview.

Photo from Baron Reznik’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

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North Korea’s Economic Diplomacy with Southeast Asia

By Sarah K. Yun

After the failed April 13 rocket launch, North Korea seemed to be headed towards increased isolation from the international community. The United Nations Security Council tightened the sanctions regime, while the United States canceled the 24,000 metric tons of food aid that had been part of the “Leap Day” Agreement. However, within just a few weeks there were signs of active economic diplomacy by North Korea. While Pyongyang’s diplomatic efforts with Southeast Asia and China are particularly visible, what are the implications of North Korea’s attempts to rekindle old relationships?

From May to August, North Korea began kicking its diplomatic outreach into high gear. In May, Kim Yong-nam, Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly, traveled to Indonesia and Singapore. While no official agreements resulted from the meetings in Singapore, Kim’s meetings with the Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa resulted in cooperation in communications, information technology, and economic/trade issues, while increasing the exchange of visits between government officials and journalists. Additionally, on June 1 Indonesia agreed to send $2 million in aid to North Korea.

The following month Cambodian foreign minister Hor Namhong visited North Korea to discuss security issues and bolster bilateral ties, while Kim Yong-il, Secretary and Director of International Affairs of the Korea Workers Party, visited Laos, Vietnam and Myanmar. In return, Lao and Vietnamese government officials visited Pyongyang in July. Also in July, North Korea’s foreign minister Park Ui-chun visited Cambodia to participate in the ASEAN Regional Forum and engage in side meetings mostly focused on trade and investment.

From August 5 to 10, Kim Yong-nam visited Vietnam and Laos to try to yield concrete results from the previous trips. On August 6, President Truong Tan Sang of Vietnam said that the “Vietnam-DPRK relations of friendship will grow stronger in mutual interests amidst the deep concern of the top leaders of the two countries.” Vietnam agreed to donate 5,000 tons of rice to Pyongyang as aid towards North Korea’s recent heavy floods. In Laos, the two countries completed four cooperation agreements to include issues of cultural exchange, information and technology, economic cooperation, education and sports.

Despite the fluctuating trade volume between North Korea and Southeast Asia, what are the incentives for countries to engage with each other at the current juncture? For North Korea, there is a significant need to diversify its trading partners. According to South Korea’s Ministry of Unification, inter-Korean trade decreased from $1.9 billion in 2012 to $1.7 billion in 2011. Even then, the figures are largely dependent on the output from the Kaesong Industrial Complex. On the other hand, while estimates vary, North Korea has become increasingly dependent on trade with China where bilateral trade increased 62.4% from 2010 to 2011. With mounting pressure to diversify its trading partners, Southeast Asia is a viable candidate given its geographical proximity and economic growth. According to the IMF, Myanmar, Singapore, and Thailand were eighth, ninth and eleventh respectively as North Korea’s import partners. While Myanmar, Singapore and Thailand were North Korea’s tenth, fourteenth and fifteenth largest trading partners.

Additionally, there are many lessons that could be learned from the Southeast Asia’s development experience. Singapore could be a model for attracting foreign direct investment and managing special economic zones. As Vietnam’s economy grows, the country could provide an alternative model besides the Chinese development model. Indonesia could be a case study on natural resource management. For the purposes of information gathering and political control, North Korea could benefit from engaging with Laos, Myanmar and Thailand. There are also historical ties in Southeast Asia, which creates a less threatening relationship. Many Southeast Asian countries, such as Indonesia, the Philippines and Singapore, were involved in the Non-Aligned Movement, which influenced North Korea’s foreign policy framework after the Korean War.

Southeast Asia also identified opportunities in engaging with North Korea. As ASEAN tries to take a more active role in the regional security and economic structure, North Korea could become an example of ASEAN’s symbolic politics and global role to create an alternative space for engagement. With China’s continuing rise, North Korea’s diplomatic outreach also represents an opportunity for ASEAN to balance China’s growing role in the region to an extent. Indonesia, as the largest country in the region, may have a vested interest in playing an alternative mediator role, particularly on non-nuclear issues.

Beyond Southeast Asia, there have also been other internal and external developments which may hint at the prospect for further engagement and opening on the part of North Korea. It has been reported that on June 28 Kim Jong-un announced a new development plan which includes the downscaling of work units in cooperative farms, allowing increased autonomy to enterprises and factories, and transferring economic projects from the military to the cabinet. In August, North Korea sent a 50 person delegation to China, including Jang Sung-taek, vice chairman of the National Defense Commission. During the summit, the two sides agreed to actively develop the Rason special economic zone and the Hwanggumpyong/Wihwa Island economic zone. Moreover, North Korea and Japan will hold high-level talks to discuss various issues including the abductee issue.

To be sure, indications of reform should be measured with the realities of North Korea. The Kim Jong-un regime will still want to maintain a considerable amount of market control to balance external engagement. The execution and level of genuine reform, including labor market reform, still remains untested. Furthermore, the Kim regime would have to resolve the inherent conflict between the legacy of juche ideology vis-à-vis reforms and opening to the outside world.

Although many are observing North Korea’s growing diplomatic efforts in the Asia Pacific with much interest, it is too early to assess true reform. However, this could serve as an opportunity for the United States, South Korea and their friends. By introducing non-traditional players such as Indonesia, Vietnam, and Singapore, North Korea’s interests and trading partners could be diversified. This could create additional entry points into the new Kim regime. This model might hold the potential to be employed on projects in developing industries in North Korea, such as technology, communication, infrastructure, education, and culture/entertainment. These efforts could potentially de-couple the technocrats from the Kim royal family. In response to North Korea’s increasing relationship with their northern neighbor, China could serve as a platform for small and medium enterprises to invest in the northeastern provinces to build greater ties with North Korea. Such projects would take place in anticipation of Rason’s rapid development.

Cooperation between the United States, South Korea, Southeast Asia, as well as China, could induce North Korea to undertake economic reform and ultimately reduce tension. On one hand, the changing circumstances in North Korea mean that the U.S. and South Korea’s close coordination is crucial in understanding internal debates and foreign policy developments within the Kim regime. On the other hand, changing the current dynamic in the region with new players and creating incentives for economic development could induce change in the North Korean society.

Sarah K. Yun is the Director of Public Affairs and Regional Issues for the Korea Economic Institute. The views expressed here are her own.

Photo from Mac Coates photo stream on flickr Creative Commons.

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Driving Change in the DPRK

By Nathan Lee

While the Leap Day deal this past February offered a glimpse of optimism into U.S.-North Korea relations, its failure was an outcome that surprised few. Under the agreement, the U.S. would have provided 240,000 metric tons of food aid to North Korea, and North Korea would have allowed international nuclear inspectors to return. But the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) instead announced on March 16th plans to launch a satellite in April, and this essentially nullified the agreement. Observers noted that a discrepancy between U.S. and DPRK interpretations of what constituted a long-range missile launch was ultimately to blame. But in any event, the DPRK defiantly carried out the launch despite admonishments from the international community not to, the U.S. cancelled the food aid, and any potential for improved relations once again quickly dissipated.

Following the failed rocket launch on April 13, Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes made the following announcement:

What this administration has done is broken the cycle of rewarding provocative actions by the North Koreans that we’ve seen in the past. Under the previous administration, for instance, there was a substantial amount of assistance provided to North Korea…Under our administration we have not provided any assistance to North Korea.

Mr. Rhodes may have been attempting to score political points by depicting a tough Obama administration, but like his predecessor, President Obama has yet to resolve the major issues related to the DPRK such as its nuclear program as well as issues related to proliferation and human rights. In fact, if the failed Leap Day deal has demonstrated anything, it is that North Korea continues to persist as one of the U.S.’s greatest foreign policy challenges.

Similarly, South Korea has also been unable to induce any change from North Korea. President Lee’s hard-line policies have elicited indignation from the DPRK, with tirades ranging from a refusal to ever work with the Lee administration, to promising a “sacred war” on the South. During the terms of both U.S. and South Korean presidents, the DPRK has been undeterred from conducting a litany of provocations, including a nuclear test in 2009, the sinking of the Cheonan, the shelling of Yeongpyong Island, as well this year’s rocket test.

However, despite the inability of the U.S. or ROK governments to achieve nominal progress with the DPRK, incremental change is being made through the important work of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and educational institutions operating in North Korea. Organizations such as the Mennonite Central Committee are helping farmers increase crop yields and develop sustainable agriculture practices. Stanford University, in conjunction with the Nuclear Threat Initiative and Christian Friends of Korea, has been engaging with North Korean officials on tuberculosis control. The Eugene Bell Foundation is also similarly working to treat multi-drug resistant tuberculosis throughout North Korea. There are other NGOs that continue to play such critical roles in the DPRK. A few weeks ago, I was fortunate to hear about the work that another one of these institutions has been undertaking. Dr. Jerry Nelson, professor emeritus from the University of Missouri, presented on how the University has been working to improve agricultural conditions on communal farms through academic exchanges and by providing expertise to the farms. His presentation underscored two important issues regarding NGO efforts in the DPRK.

First, the food and nutrition situation in rural North Korea may be worse than we think. Reports of famine and malnutrition in North Korea are now well known. Scholars such as Sunyoung Park (Seoul National University) and Daniel Schwekendiek (Sungkyunkwan University) have identified in their research that young North Koreans are shorter than their southern peers due to nutrition deficiencies. But nutrition is in such a dismal state that even the size of bullocks used for tilling fields appears to be decreasing, according to Dr. Nelson. Nutrition of work animals may seem to be an ancillary concern when humans are suffering from starvation, but such a degenerative phenomenon among livestock will perpetuate farmers’ reliance on backbreaking manual labor. In a country where spare tractor parts are lacking and any available fuel prioritized for the military, the strength and size of bullocks is essential for agricultural production. Although European NGOs are working to increase the size of these animals through improved nutrition and selective breeding, progress could take decades.

Second, despite positive trends transpiring in North Korea such as increased access to foreign media, North Korea’s rural population still face enormous challenges in their daily lives with little hope for positive change. Rural farms and their workers are caught in a vicious cycle, driven by the exigency of short-term output requirements while facing scant resources and limited production capabilities. Such conditions leave little room to incorporate relatively feasible medium-term solutions that have been proposed by experts like Dr. Nelson, such as utilizing crop rotations and the limited fertilizer more efficiently. With no opportunity to implement these relatively simple processes, farmers cannot improve their agricultural yields.

While official U.S. or South Korean policy on humanitarian aid remains constrained by North Korean policies on its nuclear program, NGOs and educational institutions have been working to improve the lives of ordinary North Koreans beyond simply giving food aid to North Korea. Although such aid is important in a country where malnourishment is so pervasive, simply continuing to distribute food aid will perpetuate the North Korean government’s dependency on aid and the U.S. and South Korea’s tendency to use it to incentivize policy changes. Instead, the valuable work that the aforementioned organizations are conducting should be supported and permitted to operate even following provocations, because these efforts actually have the potential to improve longer term conditions in North Korea.

South Korea’s Unification Minister Yu Woo-ik recently launched a campaign to solicit voluntary contributions to supplement official funds for unification, referring to these funds as unification “jars.” While this may represent a pragmatic approach towards mitigating the anticipated costs of unification, governmental strategies should also strive to incorporate the successes and lessons learned from these NGOs. Such long-term efforts to improve health and improve agricultural conditions will go a long way in building a basic foundation that will ultimately help mitigate the very costs that the unification fund might seek to address. Moreover, beyond implementing these various initiatives, these organizations are also playing an important role by building relationships and trust in North Korea, and by serving as direct witnesses within the DPRK while the rest of the world remains relatively uncertain of what is really taking place in the country.

The final point on the efforts of NGOs, governments, and international organizations operating in North Korea is that just like DPRK citizens themselves, they remain subject to the policies that the regime dictates. And for all the criticism these NGOs may receive, they are providing relief in North Korea because the state itself is unable to provide such basic services. North Korea’s leadership alone bears full responsibility for the disastrous state of economic and social affairs in the DPRK, and until the regime adopts true comprehensive reforms, the important work that NGOs perform will be hindered needlessly. More importantly, millions of citizens will continue to suffer needlessly.

Nathan Lee is currently a graduate student at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service.

Photo from Abraham Kim, Korea Economic Institute.

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The Future of Global Korea

By Sarah K. Yun

Since his inauguration in 2008, President Lee Myung-bak has promoted a “Global Korea” policy for Korea to be a more active and responsible member of the international community. However, with the upcoming presidential election and potential pendulum swing in South Korea’s leadership, what is the future of Korea’s growing global leadership role?

With the U.S.-ROK alliance as the bedrock of its growing global presence and the “Global Korea” policy, Korea has pushed for improved and active bilateral relations across the world. Korea has not only solidified relations with its neighbors such as Japan and China, but also strengthened ties with Russia, countries of Southeast Asia, Latin America and Africa. President Lee Myung-bak was the first Korean head of state to visit Africa, while existing ties with Europe strengthened with the Korea-EU FTA. Korea has also boosted cooperation with ASEAN.

Korea has worked to improve efforts to fight poverty and contribute as a responsible member of the international community through official development aid (ODA) and peacekeeping missions in Afghanistan and Somalia, and disaster relief to Haitai and others. As the only country in the world that transformed itself from an aid recipient to aid donor within five decades, Korea spent $862 million in ODA in 2009, and has planned to double its ODA budget by 2012 and triple it by 2015.

In 2010, Korea successfully hosted the G-20 Summit in Seoul, elevating its status as an economic leader and global summit convener. It was the first non G-7 country to host the summit. In 2011, Korea hosted the fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness, participating and leading in issues related to global development and poverty reduction. Korea has been working closely with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and other multilateral organizations for knowledge sharing and technical assistance. In March 2012, Korea hosted the second Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul. From May to August 2012, the World Expo takes place in the coastal city of Yeosu. Korea will also host the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics.

Moreover, Korea’s culture and pop culture, including Hallyu (Korean Wave), has swept across the world throughout Asia, Latin America, North America, and Europe. Korean companies have also contributed to Korea’s global presence. Korea’s soft power has shown to be active and influential.

“Global Korea” has clearly not been a misnomer in the recent years. At the same time, democratic politics in Korea is extremely dynamic and dramatic, which often makes policy predictions difficult especially in an election year. In this year of change, will “Global Korea” hold?  Although a large-sized country with a developed economy is unlikely to need such a policy, a small middle-power country like Korea has a stronger need for such a policy approach to help it find a competitive advantage on the world stage. In other words, a policy such as “Global Korea” is inherently in Korea’s interest to remain competitive. President Lee’s green growth initiative is also similar in nature in that Korea needs to preserve its national capital for sustainable long-term growth. Embedded in “Global Korea” is also the country’s position to stay effective as a world leader. On the other hand, Korea is strategically tying its new global position with a shared growth vision, which takes the edge off the potential negative impacts of national branding.

The one potential hurdle may be that the core issue in the current election campaign is the issue of social welfare. Consequently, both parties may become more focused on domestic policies as opposed Korea’s place in the international community. However, an agenda focused on Korea’s role on the global stage and shared growth should be a non-partisan issue, as the need for increased global and regional governance is stronger than ever before. Therefore, while the terminology and some of the function may change, the idea of Korea having a greater global role should be sustainable under future administrations and the assumption that Korea will continue to strive to maintain its middle-power leadership in the world.

Continuing Korea’s leadership in the world may continue to take shape in many forms, including international summit convener, economic role model, soft power leader, and others. On the other hand, there are three agenda items for Korea to enhance its leadership in the world. The first is to become an industry hub, just as Hong Kong and Singapore are financial hubs and Bangkok is an international development center in Asia. The second is to boost international volunteer programs such as KOICA to engage young leaders in Korea’s global participation. The third is to improve the social safety net that has been impacted by the financial crisis and strengthen the civil society that is beginning to solidify as a significant player in Korean society. At the same time, Korea has to delicately balance domestic and international issues in order to continue as a global leader.

Korea has shown remarkable resilience from historical violence and divisions. It has risen to be one of world’s most stable and dynamic democracies and markets, becoming a role model for many developing countries. Korea is a country that bridges the divide between developed and developing countries. With this responsibility, it would be a misstep to forgo Korea’s emerging leadership role under any administration.

Sarah K. Yun is the Director of Public Affairs and Regional Issues for the Korea Economic Institute. The views expressed here are her own.

Photo from underclasscameraman’s photo stream on flickr creative commons.

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Resuming Six Party Talks – The Impact of Food Aid

By Chad 0Carroll

With North Korea making a number of concessions related to its nuclear and long-range missile programs last week in Beijing, it now looks like a road-map back to the Six Party Talks is emerging.  For its part, the U.S. reaffirmed important positions regarding its intent and commitment to previous agreements with Pyongyang.  But to assume that this is all that motivated North Korea to accept the deal misses one fundamental issue – that Washington reached a monitoring agreement with Pyongyang that allowed it to proceed with setting up the logistics for a 240,000 ton delivery of nutritional assistance.  And while the State Department maintains that the proposed food aid remains completely separate from the deal, Marcus Noland has long shown that when it comes to North Korea, there is normally a linkage between food aid and talks.  But if there is too much food on the table, might Pyongyang become less inclined to negotiate?

Over the past year a number of voices have debated the true extent of North Korea’s food shortage. Some claimed the country faced an imminent famine that could kill up to six million people, while others suggested that things were actually improving.  As a result, there is naturally some disparity in the data available about how much food aid is actually needed in North Korea.  A recent graph by Stephan Haggard and Noland illustrates some of the discrepancies between their estimations and those calculated by the UN system. Noland’s team suggested that for 2011 / 2012, North Korea would face a shortfall of 146,000 tons of food, while UN estimates suggest a figure around the 259,000 ton mark.  While many suspect that Pyongyang could fill this gap through wiser spending, North Korea’s policy makers have instead made a habit of pleading to the international community to assist.

Following the death of Kim Jong-il, reports emerged which suggested that China had agreed to dispatch emergency aid that included 500,000 tons of food and 250,000 tons of crude oil.  A variation of that story said that China planned to deliver up to one million tons of aid, scheduled to coincide with 100th anniversary celebrations in April 2012.   All of this was said to be China’s attempt at helping Kim Jong-un stabilize the country during a sensitive time.  Beijing did not confirm either story, but human rights activist Do Hee-yoon was quoted as saying that in January thousands of lorries “laden with rice” had been seen entering North Korea, lending some credibility to the reports.

If the Chinese story was true, then some think the news could be a potential game-changer with regards to nuclear negotiations.  At the time rumors were circulating, Seoul was reported as having concerns that such a substantial amount of Chinese provision could have political implications, with one anonymous official warning that it would make Pyongyang less compelled to return to the Six Party Talks.  Indeed, 500,000 tons of aid would bring North Korea well above even the UN’s more conservative estimates of food shortage.  And when combined with the U.S. nutritional assistance (in the form of items that will be difficult to divert for military use), things might look even more rosy.

But there is more – regardless of the Chinese rumors, it is important to remember that we already know several other actors have already contributed food aid to North Korea.  Here are the top five donors and their contributions as of Q3 / Q4 2011:

  1. Russia completed the released of some 50,000 tons by the end of 2011
  2. In December 2011, the WFP reportedly released 32,000 tons of food aid
  3. In July 2011, the EU gave some 10 Million Euros in food aid
  4. In November 2011, Tzu Chi volunteers distributed 13,000 tons of rice & 43 tons of infant formula
  5. In July 2011, India sent $1million worth of soybeans

So even if Chinese rumors are false, when the above donations are combined with Washington’s confirmed donation, the DPRK currently seems more than capable of fulfilling its minimum dietary requirements for 2012. However, three factors suggest that this won’t impact on nuclear negotiations, as some currently fear.

Firstly, it is important to remember that 2012 is an important year for North Korea, being the 100th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il Sung. Having made a promise to become a “strong and prosperous” nation this year, the Pyongyang government needs a food surplus to help prove that it has accomplished its stated goal. So while North Korea may now be capable of addressing its shortage this year, a  major boost in aid should not be confused as signaling an unwillingness to come to the table.

Secondly, Kim Jong-un is a new leader and needs to bolster his legitimacy to the people of North Korea. A significant boost in the provision of food is one way that he can achieve this.  If the state is able to resurrect its broken down food distribution service with good, new aid, Kim Jong-un will be able to bolster his credentials among many North Koreans.

Thirdly, because the U.S. is releasing its food aid in monthly increments, it will have leverage over the North Korean government throughout 2012. Even if China has given significant aid, the DPRK’s need to provide over and beyond minimum levels will necessitate its continued cooperation with the U.S. to gain its nutritional assistance. Even though it claims no linkage between nutritional assistance and nuclear talks, the U.S. will likely be able to find reason to shut off the supply should Pyongyang not cooperate. In addition, Pyongyang will probably appreciate the monthly arrival of food, lessening its burden in keeping it stored and in good condition.

Already North Korea forwent its demand of initially requiring 330,000 metric tons of food aid from the U.S and agreed to a lower amount. Some worried that because this previous demand had come under Kim Jong-il’s stewardship, Pyongyang would have been reluctant to budge on their former leaders’ request.  But perhaps it was the combined foreign assistance that facilitated North Korea’s acceptance of Washington’s nuclear proposals.  And while the DPRK may now be in a position to provide to its people at minimum levels, the new leadership of Kim Jong-un, wed with 2012 celebrations and a drip-drop provision of U.S. aid, suggest that there is little reason for Pyongyang to back away from further talks on its unclear program – for the moment at least.

Chad 0Carroll is the Director of Communications for the Korea Economic Institute. The views represented here are his own.

Photo from Peter Casier’s UN World Food Programme photo stream on flickr Creative Commons.


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Korea: The Pivot in Latin America

By Sarah K. Yun

Until the 1990s, Korea had little economic, political, or cultural ties with Latin America. Since then, relations between Korea and Latin America have improved significantly. On the other hand, the relations have not been developed in a comprehensive multi-dimensional manner.

The economic relationship has been the most dynamic and salient aspect of Korea-Latin America relations over the past decade due to the natural complement between their respective markets. Latin America is a major source of natural resources, raw materials, and manufacturing, which are important to Korea’s manufacturing and high-technology industries. Latin American countries, such as Brazil, are an attractive export market for South Korean consumer products, such as computers, TVs, and cars. Furthermore, given increased competition from China and other Asian economies for the African and Southeast Asian mineral market, Latin America may provide a secure natural resource bedrock for Korea.

Recognizing the advantage, Korea has been engaging in trade diplomacy with Latin America with an emphasis on establishing an architecture built around free trade agreements. Korea’s first FTA in 2003 was with Chile, and it recently concluded an agreement with Peru. At the same time, Korea is interested in reaching an agreement with MERCOSUR in South America.

According to a recent Inter-American Development Bank report, principally authored by Mauricio Mesquita Moreira, trade between Korea and Latin America has grown at an annual average of 16.1% over the past two decades. Latin American countries are also beginning to recognize economic opportunities with Korea and diversification beyond North America and China.

Political and cultural relationships, on the other hand, have been secondary to economic engagement. It was not until around 1996 when diplomatic ties began to form between the two regions, signaled by Korean presidential visits to Latin America. Cultural ties have also been limited, and unlike in Asia, the Korean Wave has not yet crested in Latin America.

Regarding development aid, Korea’s official development aid (ODA) to Latin America in 2009 was less than a fifth of the ODA committed to Asia. Furthermore, only 5.9% of the cumulative total of loan commitments made by Korea between 1987 and 2009 were given to Latin America. In an environment where Korea is just beginning to establish partnerships in the region, ODA and other cooperative programs can be used as an avenue to increase awareness and presence of Korea in Latin America. In other words, Korea’s engagement via soft power and cultural diplomacy can create a multi-faceted and dynamic bilateral relationship. Consequently, Korea can create opportunities to capture the attention of Latin American governments and businesses.

Korea can be the pivot point between the developed and the developing countries such as the U.S. and Latin America. In this regard, there are potential opportunities for U.S.-Korea collaboration in the region. The U.S. and Korea can boost public policy and development cooperation by assisting in areas that face challenges in Latin America such as educational institutions and technological development. Korea can also benefit from partnering with the U.S, who has had a long-time presence in Latin America.

There are clear potential advantages for a deeper relationship between Latin America and Korea. Latin America would benefit from increased interaction with Korea to counterbalance economic and political forces from China and North America. On the other hand, Latin America is a promising market for Korea for its large consumer market and natural resources. In order to build a stronger foundation and synergy, the next step should be for both regions to engage in developmental projects and cultural diplomacy, as well as improve the existing architecture of trade and transactions. A balanced and multi-faceted economic, political and cultural strategy could lead to a successful and comprehensive relationship between Korea and Latin America.

Sarah K. Yun is the Director of Public Affairs and Regional Issues for the Korea Economic Institute. The views expressed here are her own.

Photo from Janice Waltzer’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

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The Seoul G-20 One Year On

By Troy Stangarone

When scholars and historians look back on the Seoul G-20, it is likely to be seen as a brief interregnum between crises rather than the first post-crisis summit that many world leaders had hoped it would be at the time. Since the Seoul Summit last November, the world has faced growing concerns of a return to recession and a second financial crisis focused in the Euro zone area.

The Seoul Summit was a turning point for the G-20. Much of the work that had been done to address the financial crisis was formally endorsed at the Seoul Summit. World leaders adopted new capital requirements to make the financial system more robust under Basel III and endorsed work by the Financial Stability Board to address systemically important financial institutions.

Since some of the key highlights of the Seoul Summit consisted of formally endorsing ongoing work from earlier G-20 summits, the key for considering the Seoul summit’s success a year later rests with the new issues that Korea added to the agenda and how they meet ongoing global challenges. For the Seoul Summit Korea added three items to the agenda – financial safety nets, the Seoul Development Consensus, and the Business Summit.

Of Seoul’s contribution to the G-20, the push for the introduction of financial safety nets looks the most prescient should the world fall into a second financial crisis. Work on this issue led to the endorsement of enhancements to the IMF’s Flexible Credit Line (FCL), specifically the introduction of the multi-country FLC for when many countries are exposed to a common shock.  Leaders also backed the introduction of a Precautionary Credit Line (PCL) at the IMF. The PCL was designed to make precautionary liquidity available to countries with sound fundamentals and policies, but moderate market vulnerabilities.  The Cannes Summit saw the addition of Precautionary and Liquidity Line to further enhance the IMF’s flexibility in providing liquidity, while the issue of enhancing the global financial safety net is set to stay on the G-20 agenda as Mexico takes over the leadership in 2012.

The issue of the Seoul Development Consensus is more complex. The development agenda remained on the G-20 agenda, but took a backseat to the European sovereign debt crisis which consumed the talks in Cannes. Leaders reaffirmed their support for the Seoul Development Consensus, but also acknowledged that G-20 officials did not meet on this issue until September of this year. While the G-20 did announce some additional measures on development, the most progress seemed to be made on efforts to address food security and high volatility in food prices. To this end, the G-20 adopted the Action Plan on Food Price Volatility and Agriculture, which will address agricultural productivity and take steps to address the volatility in food prices.

The last contribution to the G-20 is the Business Summit, or B-20. The gathering of world business leaders takes place in conjunction with the G-20 summit to help provide world leaders with the prospective of business on the issues they face. While likely a worthwhile endeavor, this is perhaps the one contribution to the G-20 by Seoul that has to date shown the least progress, but also looks set to continue.

In light of the significant economic uncertainty that has taken place in Europe since the Seoul G-20, its achievements have held up quite well. In fact, if the world does experience another financial crisis in the near future, its efforts to push for financial safety nets will have made a significant contribution to the global economy. However, the area with the most promise for Seoul to leave a lasting impression on the G-20 is in the area of development. Strong, sustainable global growth is dependent upon helping the world’s developing nations meet their potential, and properly addressed the development agenda could play a significant part in this process. While the need to focus on the sovereign debt crisis is understandable, if Mexico and the G-20 pick up the development agenda to provide aid to Africa or assistance to the transitioning economies of the Arab Spring, this could be Seoul’s true G-20 legacy.

Troy Stangarone is the Senior Director of Congressional Affairs and Trade for the Korea Economic Institute. The views expressed here are his own.

Photo from Korea.net



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The Korean Approach in Africa: Unique or Ordinary?

By Sarah K. Yun

Although Korea established diplomatic relations with many African countries in the early 1960s, it was not until recently that these relations were aggressively nurtured.  In the last decade or so, South Korea has actively worked to enhance relations with Africa, seeing the continent as a “fresh engine” for Korea’s growth.  During this process, Korea has successfully positioned itself as a mutually beneficial partner to Africa in knowledge sharing such as transferring agricultural technology, human resources training, and helping with national development strategies.  Korea also offers an alternative source of development assistance from China.  Korea, on the other hand, has found lucrative investments in Africa’s natural resources, especially as it seeks to lower its dependency on oil from the Middle East.  Moreover, engagements with Africa serve as an opportunity for Korea to elevate its status as a leader in the international community.  All in all, the two have identified each other’s interests and economies as complementary.

Both sides have established institutions and structures to build trust and sustained interaction.  A symbol of commitment between Korea and Africa is the Korea-Africa Forum, started in 2006 by Ban Ki-moon, then ROK Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade.  Four years later, Korean and African officials gathered in Seoul for the bi-annual Korea-Africa Economic Cooperation Conference (KOAFEC).  At previous KOAFEC meetings, various initiatives were launched to strengthen Korea-Africa relations, such as the announcement for Korea to double its development cooperation fund aimed at infrastructure expansion from $590 million in 2005-2009 to $1.09 billion for 2010-2014.  At the previous Korea-Africa Forum in 2009, both sides agreed to cooperate on global challenges such as reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, share development experiences of capacity building and promoting governance, and affirmed Korea’s commitment to double its ODA to Africa by 2012 compared to 2008, among others.

While the Korea-Africa partnership has grown, the international community has undergone many new challenges.  Given the new circumstances since 2006, what issues should be addressed at the next Korea Africa Forum in 2012?  First, the discussion should entail Korea’s role in the protection of Africa against the euro and global financial crisis.  Second, Korea should enact a comprehensive ODA strategy including the balancing of grant and loans, both of which must ultimately lead to poverty reduction and sustainable development of local enterprises in Africa.  Third, Korea should explore ways to mitigate risks and uncertainties of African markets by providing incentives to Korean companies to invest in Africa.  This will foster a more stable business environment by instilling institutions and Korean approaches.  Fourth, there should be a renewed emphasis on education.  Not only is knowledge sharing important but also providing various educational opportunities to the emerging African leaders will be key in paving the way for a Korean approach that mutually benefits both Korea and Africa.

Relative to many other developed countries, Korea’s activities in Africa have not been as negatively impacted by the recent financial crisis.  In addition, China’s activities in the African economy have often been criticized.  At the same time, the U.S. is struggling through its own domestic job crisis, while Europe is plagued with its grim economic state and faced with a unique history as the former colonizers of Africa.  This reality, combined with Korea’s unprecedented development path, sets the stage for Korea to play a unique role in Africa.  The key for Korea will be to focus ultimately on mutual benefit via Africa’s sustainable development in order to avoid what some call the pitfalls of China’s negative reputation in Africa.

Sarah K. Yun is the Director of Public Affairs and Regional Issues for the Korea Economic Institute. The views expressed here are her own.

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About The Peninsula

The Peninsula blog is a project of the Korea Economic Institute. It is designed to provide a wide ranging forum for discussion of the foreign policy, economic, and social issues that impact the Korean peninsula. The views expressed on The Peninsula are those of the authors alone, and should not be taken to represent the views of either the editors or the Korea Economic Institute. For questions, comments, or to submit a post to The Peninsula, please contact us at ts@keia.org.