Tag Archive | "development"

South Korea’s Role in International Development

By Joy Kim

South Korea is currently the world’s 15th largest economy. This fact strikes many as amazing given that Korea’s Gross National Product (GNP) per capita increased by more than 243 times over the span of 50 years, from $82 in 1961 to $20,000 in 2006. The baby boom generation who were born in the 1950s can attest to the dramatic changes in lifestyles following the GNP growth, from starving childhood to enjoying free phone calls via a smart phone application with their children studying overseas.

With positive changes in the lives of individual citizens, the nation as a whole also transformed its status in the international community, as Korea went from an aid beneficiary to a donor. Korea’s official acceptance into the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee (DAC) in 2009 marked the first time that a beneficiary turned donor joined the ‘assistance club’. Moreover, hosting the fourth High-Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in Busan last November contributed in establishing Korea as a donor country.

Korea’s changed economic and social status in the international community has brought more responsibilities and engagement in international development; Korea is increasing its official development assistance (ODA), actively sends volunteers overseas, and researches innovative ways to contribute to developing countries. However, challenges exist because of its lack of experience as a donor.

Korea benefited greatly from foreign aid during the reconstruction of the country after the Korean War in 1953 when the majority of aid came from the U.S. and Japan. With Korea’s membership in OECD-DAC, Korea has expressed its goal to increase its foreign aid to 0.25% of its Gross National Income (GNI) by year 2015, which amounts to $3 billion. This is a twofold increase from the current amount.

Aside from the monetary foreign aid assistance, Korea has been actively engaging in establishing development institutions for effective coordination and promotion of volunteering programs. Similar to the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA) was established in 1991 to implement the government’s grant aid and technical cooperation programs. KOICA works on all aspects of development from education to disaster relief.

Korea has also been actively participating in overseas volunteer programs. Similar to the Peace Corps program in the U.S. which traces back to 1960, Korea has an integrated overseas volunteer program called World Friends Korea (WFK). Korea is a beneficiary of the Peace Corp activities, as volunteers helped to reconstruct the war devastated Korea from 1966 to 1981. Now, World Friends Korea coordinates various overseas volunteer programs, from cultural exchanges to IT education.

More importantly, international development is not a foreign concept to the Korean people anymore. The concept of charity and responsibility, as well as willingness to help developing countries, is developing as a cultural norm in the Korean community. Many NGOs are being established, including Good Neighbors, a Korean NGO that is currently working in 30 countries, and the first Korean NGO to achieve the General Consultative Status with the United Nations. Big private companies such as Hyundai are also launching their own overseas volunteering programs.

While Korea’s repositioning in the international community as an aid giver follows similar models and organizations of that of experienced donor countries, Korea should and is able to contribute additional unique and practical assistance given its own development experience. Korea has been active in sharing and transferring its development knowledge and technology to current developing countries since 2004. Through the Knowledge Sharing Program (KSP) under the Korea Development Institute (KDI), Korea provides practical and useful policy alternatives based on similar cases experienced by Korea in the past. Many developing countries turn to South Korea for inspiration and lessons for development. However, developing countries should also recognize that the development of a country is ultimately in the hands of the citizens of the country. Foreign aid can catalyze development, but cannot achieve development alone. Volunteers alone cannot reform the developing countries. Knowledge sharing can serve as a guideline or support, but nothing can be a blue print for the ultimate path to prosperity. After all, Korea’s development success also had many different contributing factors; its export-led macroeconomic policy, the intensely motivated citizens, and a nationwide campaign (Saemaul movement) for rural development to name a few. However, political turbulence and uprisings along the way were also unavoidable. Every country faces different political cultures and economic contexts that Korea’s development model cannot be exactly copied and pasted.

Korea has as much to gain as to give through more active participation in the development community. With Korea’s dedicated efforts in upgrading Korea’s image in the international community as ‘Global Korea’, active engagement in development assistance can act as positive diplomacy. In addition, through cultural exchanges such as World Friends Korea’s Korea Taekwondo Peace Corps Program, Korea is able to spread and educate global citizens about Korea’s unique culture, in this case martial arts.

Challenges also lie ahead. Even with best intentions, international development assistance cannot come to fruition if the activities from different organizations are not coordinated well at the ground level. With the government, various NGOs, and private sectors jumping in on the international development bandwagon, coordination is needed to deliver good results. Also, the best students do not necessarily make best teachers. While Korea is one of the few countries that succeeded in effectively utilizing foreign aid to build its domestic economy, Korea now needs more development professionals who are experts in transferring knowledge, and effectively coordinating and implementing aid and volunteer activities.

With Korea’s capabilities to assist developing countries through financial and educational means, now is the time to reciprocate the favor that Korea received from the world half a century ago.

Joy Kim is an M.A. candidate at the Elliott School of International Affairs at The George Washington University. The views expressed here are her own.

Photo from Ken Bank’s 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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Partner, Balancer and Model: Korea’s Engagements in Southeast Asia

By Sarah K. Yun

Traditionally, Korea’s major diplomatic and trade partners consisted of the United States, Japan, China, Europe, and Russia. Under President Lee Myung-bak’s “New Asia Initiative,” Korea has boosted its engagements in the Asia-Pacific, especially smaller neighbors in the region. The rationale is that Korea can serve as an excellent and non-threatening model for economic and political development. Southeast Asia and ASEAN are perfect case studies for the success of Korea’s “New Asia Initiative.” Korea is expanding its involvements in all three diplomatic pillars – economic, security, and non-traditional security including socio-cultural issues.

The most active pillar of Korea’s diplomatic engagements in Southeast Asia is economics and trade issues. ASEAN became Korea’s third largest trading partner in 2008, second largest overseas investment destination, and second largest construction market. At the same time, Korea is ASEAN’s fifth largest trading partner. Since 2005, trade between Korea and ASEAN nations has increased 82% from $53 billion to $97 billion in 2010. In 2010, the Korea-ASEAN FTA was implemented, and bilateral trade is expected to increase to $150 billion by 2015.

When it comes to development assistance, Korea’s top five recipients of official development assistance are ASEAN countries. Together they received more than $700 billion in aid from Korea. With more than 550 million people and an abundance of natural resources, Southeast Asia is a valuable economic partner for Korea’s growth. Southeast Asia also sees Korea as an important economic partner with strong technology, infrastructure, and human capital resources.

Korea is also a growing player in the security structure of Southeast Asia. It is a Dialogue Partner of ASEAN and a member of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF). Since 1997, the Korea-ASEAN Summit Meeting has been held annually. Both Korea and Southeast Asia have a common interest in balancing peaceful relations with the U.S., China and Japan, while being wary of Chinese military power.

With regards to non-traditional security issues, Korea has begun to extend its reach in Southeast Asia. Key issues that Korea is involved with are environmental and energy conservation, illegal drug and weapons trafficking, piracy control, pandemic disease, and global terrorism. Furthermore, the Hallyu (Korean Wave) in the form of Korean music, TV, films and culture, has swept all throughout Southeast Asia, which works to improve the reputation of Korea in the region. On March 2009, the ASEAN-Korea Center was launched in Korea to strengthen ties and conversation. Additionally, people-to-people exchanges are substantive. Approximately 200,000 Southeast Asians work in Korean factories, and more than three million Korean tourists visited Southeast Asia in 2010. Through its socio-cultural exchanges, Korea has become a model for many everyday Southeast Asians.

The Korea-ASEAN relationship has strengthened dramatically over the last two decades. Korea went from a sectoral dialogue partner of ASEAN in 1989 to a full dialogue partner in 1991. In 2004, a comprehensive cooperation partnership was established, which was elevated to a strategic partnership in 2010. Korea is a vital economic partner, reliable security balancer, and a model of soft power in Southeast Asia. Southeast Asia is a case study in how Korea has successfully plugged itself into the existing frameworks of the region, such as ASEAN and the ARF, to play a complimentary security role, while paving a new path of partnership with new tools such as the FTA and cultural diplomacy.

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 Edwin Maolana’s photo stream on flickr Creative Commons.

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A More Complicated Relationship for Korea in the Middle East

By Troy Stangarone

In recent years, the perception of Korea on the global stage has begun to change. This shift is partly a reflection of Korea’s emerging economic stature. While China may get much of the press, decades of economic success have led other developing nations to view Korea as a model for economic development, a role which Korea has begun to embrace.  At the same time, Korea’s own economic growth has seen it become one of the top ten trading nations and an emerging voice in global economic forums such as the G-20.

While Korea’s economic success has brought it a more significant role on the global stage over the last few years, that same success has also expanded Korea’s national interests around the globe. This is perhaps nowhere more evident than in the Middle East, where Korea’s interests and relations are rapidly changing.

While the Middle East has long been a source of energy imports, Korea’s own trade with the region was often limited, though the region was a significant source for construction projects. In the last decade alone, Korean exports to the Middle East have grown from only $7.1 billion in 2001 to $34 billion last year, or nearly two-thirds of Korea’s exports to the United States. At the same time, the Middle East remains a key supplier of energy to power the Korean economy with the region accounting for about 87 percent of Korea’s oil imports and nearly 50 percent of its imports of natural gas.

Korea’s dependence on the Middle East for energy and its success in developing export markets in the region gives Korea a strong interest in peace and stability in the region. At the same time, Korea is seen as a more attractive partner in the Middle East. In a recent interview with the Korea Times, Saudi Arabia’s Ambassador to the Korea said that “The Kingdom pays special attention to its relationship with the Republic of Korea, in recognition of Korea’s leading role in the international community.”

The enhanced standing that Korea is developing in the region was evident on President Lee Myung-bak’s recent trip. Ostensibly about securing commitments for increased oil supplies from the region in anticipation of cooperating in U.S. sanctions efforts towards Iran, President Lee left the region with an agreement to raise Korea’s relationship with Turkey to that of a strategic partnership, the establishment of a high level cooperation committee to handle cooperation between Qatar and Korea on economic and security issues, and an agreement to negotiate a defense cooperation pact with Saudi Arabia, which will send its first military attaché in Asia to Korea.

On the economic side, President Lee also saw benefits. With indications that Korea is preparing to cut its imports of oil from Iran (which accounts for roughly 10 percent of Korea’s oil imports) by upwards of 50 percent, Korea secured a pledge from Saudi Arabia to make the difference in any oil shortage and a new 20 year contract to supply crude oil to Korea.  Qatar also agreed to a 20 year contract to provide Korea with an additional 2 million tons of liquefied natural gas per year.

With the region as a whole undergoing significant political change, Korea’s growing ties with Turkey could also be a strategic benefit to Korea in the long run as many of the transitioning governments in the region look to Ankara as an exemplar of Middle Eastern democracy. To those ends, Korea and Turkey are already in the process of negotiating an FTA that could serve as a broader Middle East export platform for Korea and the two sides also agreed to resume talks on the construction of two nuclear reactors in Turkey. If successful, the talks would represent the second major nuclear contract for Korea after its 2009 deal to build four plants in the United Arab Emirates.

However, despite growing ties to the Middle East, Korea also finds itself more exposed to instability in the region. The current confrontation with Iran has put the majority of Korea’s oil imports at risk should tensions over Iran’s suspected nuclear program break out into conflict, while the tumult of the Arab Spring has impacted Korea’s exports to some of the impacted nations in the region, such as Libya where exports fell from $1.4 billion in 2010 to a mere $181 million in 2011. While not as extreme a drop, even exports to Egypt fell from a high of $2.2 billion to $1.7 billion as a result of the transitions taking place in the region.

Korea has been able to benefit from increasing exports to the Middle East as part of a conscious strategy to diversify its export markets. Beyond the Middle East, Korea has also made increasing inroads into Latin America and Africa and has developed a strategy of using FTAs to ensure that Korea is not dependent upon any one market for its exports. At the same time, while Korea has been pursuing more renewable resources and energy efficiency under its “Green Korea” policies, it has not yet been able to successfully diversify the sources of its energy imports.

In the long run, Korea is likely to benefit substantially from enhanced ties with the Middle East. If new, democratic governments in the region are able to expand the benefits of economic growth to the wider population, Korea would likely benefit from increasing consumer markets in the region. However, as its energy and economic ties to the region increase, Korea will also find itself increasingly caught in the conflicts of the region. So far, Korea has managed to navigate these challenges in the Middle East well, as long as it continues to do so it will likely see its status in the region rise.

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

The photo is from the dead pixel’s photo stream on flickr Creative Commons.

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Do English-Teacher Cuts in Korea Signal a Sea Change?

By Ben Hancock

In the face of budget cuts, the education offices of South Korea’s two most populous regions announced in the second half of last year plans to reduce their roster of native English-speaking teachers in coming years. While the scale of the cutbacks in Seoul and the surrounding Gyeonggi Province is still unclear, the steps raise questions about whether the country as a whole is beginning to move away from an educational model that has exposed millions of Koreans to Westerners and their culture, and vice versa.

What seems to be happening is that Korean education officials are now shifting toward a quality over quantity approach to English education, according to Pak Soon-Yong, a professor of education at Yonsei University. “There is a discussion on the need to revamp English education to meet the needs of the times, one of which is to reestablish the guidelines to accommodate qualified native English teachers,” he says.

That’s a natural shift for Korea to make as a rising economic power with increasing international exposure, says Ben Glickman, who until recently was CEO of the Vancouver-based Footprints Recruiting company that places teachers in Korea and elsewhere. It also roughly follows the arc of Japan’s English-teaching industry — which rose along with its economy and high-tech sector from the 1980s until the mid-1990s, but then evened out in later years.

“Foreigners in Korea are not the novelty that they were 15 or 20 years ago,” Glickman explains. This means there’s less value in just getting kids exposed to a foreign face, especially in urban areas, and more interest in drawing educators who are specially qualified. Even now, many of the teachers hired through the government-run English Program in Korea (EPIK) are recent graduates who are shoved into classrooms with just a week of training, he says. And they’re earning roughly $40,000 a year, making them a target for local councils eager to ease spending.

Still, that amount is less than Glickman earned when he taught English in Korea over a decade ago. This is where the economics of supply and demand come into play. Glickman notes — and I wrote about two years ago — a rise in the number of Westerners newly seeking jobs in Korea or who planned to keep the ones they had, corresponding with the soured state of the job markets in the U.S., Canada and elsewhere. More applicants for less positions means that Korea can afford to be more choosey.

In a recent interview with the Jeju Weekly, Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education (SMOE) Foreign Education Department Chief Choi Chun Ok underlined the scope of the costs to pay for native English-speaking teachers.

“Foreign English teachers have greatly contributed to the development of English education in Seoul,” Choi told the paper. “However, it is time to reevaluate the cost-effectiveness, considering a huge sum of budget (about 52 billion won, or US$45 million annually). So we are changing our policy from quantity expansion to quality improvement.”

Scope of cutbacks unclear

Part of the reason it’s so difficult to get a handle on how deep the cuts will be is because there have been so many conflicting media reports, as noted by blogger Matt Van Volkenburg, who has run “Gusts of Popular Feeling” from his perch in South Korea since 2005. “I don’t think these moves should be exaggerated,” Van Volkenburg says in an e-mail to me. He notes that while the initially announced budget cuts in Gyeonggi were substantial (though the provincial education authority later seemed to backtrack), the cuts in Seoul were relatively shallow. In the capital, it seems clear that native speaker jobs in high schools will be cut significantly, with lesser cuts in middle and elementary schools.

Glickman is not surprised that it’s been hard to figure out what’s going on behind the scenes, especially in Seoul. Characterizing SMOE as a “notoriously opaque” agency, he recalls an instance in 2008 when the office fired more than a hundred teachers just before they were to begin their jobs. Many of them were already in Korea or on a plane, and the office never gave a clear explanation for its action.

That issue aside, it doesn’t seem like the cuts will have a major effect on Korea’s influence abroad, or the country’s allure. Glickman speculates this may have even been a piece of the calculations in deciding to start rolling back the English teacher positions. With Samsung now a household name and kimchi taco trucks proliferating in Seattle, LA, New York and Washington, it’s probably become apparent to Koreans that they don’t need to rely on English teachers to be cultural ambassadors, he says.

Van Volkenburg partly agrees. “As much as people like to scoff at the ‘Korean Wave,’ I’ve been told by people who work with foreign students studying in Korea that quite a few non-ethnic Korean Western students are attracted to Korea because of their interest in Korean music and dramas, so that will continue to pull more Westerners here.”

“It is too bad, however, that few people have thought about how native speaking teachers could be potential sources of information about the country,” he adds. “In the past, some soldiers and a great many Peace Corps volunteers went on to work in business or academia related to Korea. I’ve only ever seen one article … suggesting that foreign teachers be seen as potential ambassadors. Perhaps as the political winds shift and the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics approach, this idea might become more popular.”

Ben Hancock is a journalist based in Washington, D.C. He has studied Korean language and culture since 2004, and most recently lived in Korea from 2008 to 2010. The views represented here are his own.

Photo from the U.S. Army Second Infantry Division’s photo stream on flickr Creative Commons.

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The Hungry Child in North Korea

By Karin Lee, NCNK

In December 2010, North Korea began asking multiple countries for food aid.  Its request to the U.S. came in early 2011, but it wasn’t until December 2011 that a deal seemed close, with the U.S. prepared to provide 240,000 metric tons (MTs) of assistance. Kim Jong Il died soon after this news hit the press, and details of the potential deal were never announced.

In the ideal world, Ronald Reagan’s “hungry child” knows no politics. But the case of North Korea is far from ideal. The U.S. government states it does not take politics into consideration when determining whether to provide aid to North Korea. Instead, the decision is based on three criteria: need in North Korea, competing demands for assistance, and the ability to monitor aid effectively. Yet these three criteria are subjective and tinged by politics.

In 2011 a succession of four assessment delegations (one by U.S. NGOs, one by the U.S. government, one by the EU and one by the UN) visited the DPRK. All found pretty much the same thing: widespread chronic malnutrition, especially among children and pregnant or lactating women, and cases of acute malnutrition. The UN confirmed the findings late last year, reporting chronic malnutrition in children under five in the areas visited — 33% overall, and 45% in the northern part of the country.

Some donors responded quickly. For example, shortly after its July assessment, the EU announced a 10 Million Euro donation. Following its own May assessment, however, the U.S. government was slow to make a commitment.  Competing demands may have played a role. In July, the predicted famine in the Horn of Africa emerged, prompting a U.S. response of over $668 million in aid to “the worst food crisis in half a century.”  While there was no public linkage between U.S. action on the African famine and inaction on North Korea, there could have been an impact.

But the two biggest factors shaping the U.S. government’s indecisiveness continued to be uncertainty about both the severity of the need and the ability to establish an adequate monitoring regime. At times, South Korean private and public actors questioned the extent of the North’s need. Early on, a lawmaker in South Korea asserted that North Korea already had stockpiled 1,000,000 metric tons of rice for its military. Human rights activist Ha Tae Keung argued that North Korea would use the aid contributed in 2011 to augment food distributions in 2012 in celebration of the 100th birthday of Kim Il Sung and North Korea’s status as a “strong and prosperous nation.”  According to Yonhap, shortly after the U.N. released the above-noted figures, South Korean Unification Minister Yu Woo-Ik called the food situation in North Korea not “very serious.”

South Korea’s ambivalence about the extent of the food crisis was noted by Capitol Hill, exacerbating congressional reluctance to support food aid. A letter to Secretary Clinton sent shortly before the U.S. assessment trip in May began with Senators Lieberman, McCain, Webb and Kyl explaining they shared South Korean government suspicions that food aid would be stockpiled and requesting State to “rigorously” evaluate any DPRK request for aid. With the close ROK-U.S. relationship one of the administration’s most notable foreign policy accomplishments, such a warning may have carried some weight.

Monitoring is of equal, if not greater congressional concern. Since the 1990s U.S. NGOs and USAID have worked hard with DPRK counterparts to expand monitoring protocols, and conditions have consistently improved over time. In the 2008/2009 program, the first food program funded by the U.S. government since 2000, the DPRK agreed to provisions such as Korean-speaking monitors. The NGO portion of the program was fairly successful in implementing the monitoring protocol; when implementation of the WFP portion hit some bumps, USAID suspended shipments to WFP until issues could be resolved. The DPRK ended the program prematurely in March 2009 with 330,000 MT remaining.

In 2011 the Network for North Korean Human Rights and Democracy conducted a survey of recent defectors to examine “aid effectiveness” in the current era. Out of the 500 interviewees, 274 left the DPRK after 2010. However, only six were from provinces where NGOs had distributed aid in 2008/2009. Disturbingly, of the 106 people interviewees who had knowingly received food aid, 29 reported being forced to return food. Yet the report doesn’t state their home towns, or when the events took place. Unfortunately such incomplete data proves neither the effectiveness nor ineffectiveness of the most recent monitoring regime.

Some believe that adequate monitoring is impossible. The House version of the 2012 Agricultural Appropriations Act included an amendment prohibiting the use of Food for Peace or Title II funding for food aid to North Korea; the amendment was premised on this belief. However the final language signed into law in November called for “adequate monitoring,” not a prohibition on funding.

The U.S. response, nine months in the making, reflects the doubts outlined above and the politically challenging task of addressing them. It took months for the two governments to engage in substantive discussions on monitoring after the May trip. In December, the State Department called the promised nutritional assistance “easier to monitor” because items such as highly fortified foods and nutritional supplements are supposedly less desirable and therefore less likely to be diverted than rice. The reported offer of 240,000 MT– less than the 330,000 MT the DPRK requested – reflects the unconfirmed report that the U.S. identified vulnerable populations but not widespread disaster.

In early January, the DPRK responded. Rather than accepting the assistance that was under discussion, it called on the United States to provide rice and for the full amount, concluding “We will watch if the U.S. truly wants to build confidence.”  While this statement has been interpreted positively by some as sign of the new Kim Jong Un regime’s willingness to talk, it also demonstrates a pervasive form of politicization – linkage. A “diplomatic source” in Seoul said the December decision on nutritional assistance was linked to a North Korean pledge to suspend its uranium enrichment program. Linkage can be difficult to avoid, and the long decision-making process in 2011 may have exacerbated the challenge. Although Special Representative Glyn Davies was quick to state that “there isn’t any linkage” between the discussion of nutritional assistance and dialogue on security issues, he acknowledged that the ability of the DPRK and US to work together cooperatively on food assistance would be interpreted as a signal regarding security issues. Meanwhile, the hungry child in North Korea is still hungry.

For a digest of humanitarian news, see the NCNK website.

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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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Korea Can Do More in the Middle East

By Troy Stangarone

In his remarks before Congress, President Lee Myung-bak pledged to help Libya through its transition saying “We will take part in the international effort in bringing democracy to Libya and rebuilding its shattered economy.”  While Korea’s efforts in helping Libya are laudable, Korea may also be in a position to help utilize lessons from its own development to help with the transition in the Middle East.

In the aftermath of the Korean War, Korea had very little industry or resources with which to develop its economy. However, over the last sixty years Korea has gained a wealth of experience as it successfully made the transition from developing to developed economy. Since 2004, Korea has sought to share that knowledge with other developing countries, and to that end the Korean government has supported the Korea Knowledge Sharing Program. As of 2010, the program has been involved in research and consultations with approximately 20 countries and 200 topics and counts among its successes the Kuwait Five-Year Economic Development Plan, the establishment of the Vietnam Development Bank, and the Navoi Free Economic Zone of Uzbekistan.

Beyond its own efforts, Korea sought to place the issue of development on the agenda at the Seoul G-20 Summit as it worked to become the ‘bridge’ between the developed and developing world. While not what was envisioned at the time, marrying Korea’s efforts through its Knowledge Sharing Program with an augmented version of the G-20 development agenda agreed to in Seoul might be an ideal means to provide and coordinate technical economic assistance from Korea and other G-20 nations. Critically, the G-20 agenda also includes a knowledge sharing component. Since the G-20 includes both advanced and developing nations, it may be viewed in a positive light in the region and have more practical experience to draw on.

At the same time, much like Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya, Korea has experienced a transition from dictatorship to democracy. Each of these nations would benefit from technical assistance with the transition to democracy as they build democratic institutions and organize free elections.  This may especially be the case in Egypt where concerns over backsliding by the military in the transition to democracy have already begun.  Korea could share its lessons from this difficult process as well.

A successful transition and stability in the Middle East matters for Korea as well. Many of these markets had seen significant increases in exports from Korea over the last decade before the Arab Spring took hold. Taken as a whole, the Middle East and North Africa now imports roughly two-thirds of what the United States imports from Korea. The region is also a key source of energy for the Korean economy. Korea currently imports nearly three quarters of its oil from the Middle East, as well as a significant portion of its natural gas.

The transitions in the Middle East have created a great deal of uncertainty in the region over the last year.  However, they also represent a challenge for the international community that seems to be ideally suited for Korea’s participation as it seeks to become more of a global player and to share its experiences with other developing countries.

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

Photo by mbaudier, Flickr Creative Commons

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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.