Tag Archive | "environment"

An Earthquake in Korea: A Look at the Gyeongju Earthquakes

By Christopher Hurst

As the residents of Gyeongju began cleaning up the damage caused by two powerful earthquakes earlier this month, a 4.5 magnitude aftershock struck on September 19. The tremors began on September 12 at 7:44 pm local time, when a 5.1 magnitude earthquake jolted Gyeongju. Less than an hour later there was a 5.8 magnitude quake, the largest in modern Korean history. This one was so powerful reports of shaking came from as far away as Busan and Daegu. While these events have been destructive and upsetting for the residents, there haven’t been any reported fatalities. Nevertheless, with so many earthquakes in such a short period, many have begun to question if the Korea peninsula is as safe from seismic activity as previously thought. Is there a reason for this rash of strong earthquakes in such a short time-frame? Moreover, is Korea prepared for a major earthquake?

Since 1978, Korea has only experienced five earthquakes that were 5.0 magnitude or greater. The earthquakes caused little damage, as the epicenters were offshore. However, small earthquakes (mostly undetectable by people on the ground) are happening in a greater number in recent years in Korea. Between 1978 and 1998, seismometers detected an average of 19.2 earthquakes per year on the peninsula. Since 1999, however that number has jumped up to 47.6 per year.

What is causing the increase in earthquakes? While Korea is not located on the “Pacific Rim of Fire” where many of the world’s earthquakes happen, they are near enough to feel some effects. Director Chi Heon-Cheol of the Earthquake Research Center under the Korea Institute of Geoscience and Mineral Resources (KIGMR) warned in April of this year that the recent seismic activity in the Kumamoto Prefecture in Japan could affect the potential for quakes in Korea, since the two share the same tectonic plate. A research team from Earth Observatory of Singapore also noted, “the on-going tectonic motions between the Philippine Sea plate and the Eurasian plate, as well as the tectonic deformation within northern China, are producing notable deformations in the peninsula, and reactivating the ancient fault in South Korea’s intraplate environment.” The news is not all gloom and doom, however. Many experts feel that while earthquakes may happen more frequently, Korea is still safe from the large earthquakes that Japan and Chile regularly face. A researcher at the KIGMR noted, “Although there can be earthquakes under 5.5 magnitude down the road, the overall geological structure in and around South Korea is not conducive to a major earthquake.”  For the moment, this seems to be true, as most of the aftershocks in the Gyeongju region have ranged in magnitude from 2.1 to 3.5.

With a potential increase in earthquakes on the horizon, many in Korea are starting to look at how prepared the country is. One of the biggest worries is that many of the nuclear power plants that provide almost one third of the power to the nation are located in the southeastern part of the country, the area most prone to earthquakes. Following the earthquakes, Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power Plant Company shut down the Wolsong power plant in Gyeongju as a precaution. Officials have stated that they are working to increase power plants ability to withstand earthquakes up to 7.0 on the Richter scale. All nuclear facilities can currently resist 6.5 magnitude earthquakes. Workers are expected to complete the upgrades by April 2018.

While officials feel that the nuclear power plants will soon be ready for future earthquakes, many of the high-rise apartments in Korea may not be. Korea adopted earthquake resistant structures and guidelines in 1988; however, enforcement has been loose. In 1998, Korea mandated earthquake resistance for buildings six stories or taller. However, there was no set standard in the law for builders to follow, causing concern for how powerful a quake they can resist. Currently, only 6.8 percent of the buildings in Korea today have earthquake resistant designs. In the face of worry from the public about the recent earthquakes, the government has quickly passed laws mandating earthquake resistance for all buildings as short as two stories and included defined requirements. President Park Geun-Hey has also promised to review and strengthen earthquake preparations for Korea. Hopefully, the events in Gyeongju will leave the country better prepared for when the next earthquake strikes.

Christopher Hurst is an intern at the Korea Economic Institute of America and a graduate of the University of Illinois at Chicago. The views expressed here are the author’s alone.

Photo from Adam Nicholson’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

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Five Surprising Ways South Korea and the United States are Working Together

By Jenna Gibson

This week, South Korea became the first Asian country to sign a space cooperation pact with the United States, the first step for the two countries to collaborate on projects like Mars exploration, launching a moon lander, and expanding possible uses of the International Space Station. This announcement strengthens what is already a robust relationship between South Korea’s space program and NASA, which KEI has discussed extensively through our podcast and other research projects.

This announcement may come as a surprise to those who see the U.S.-Korea relationship mostly in terms of security cooperation. However, there are many arenas where the United States and South Korea work together outside of the military alliance. Here are five surprising places where these two countries collaborate.

 1.      Improving maternal and child health

The United States and South Korea have a long history of cooperation on development assistance, beginning with American help in the wake of the Korean War to South Korea’s entry into the donor community in the 1990. South Korea’s development assistance agency, which celebrated its 25th birthday recently, has close ties with USAID. A joint project launched in 2013 focuses on combatting maternal, newborn and child health concerns across sub-Saharan Africa. Another new project will look into ways to promote sustainable development in Southeast Asia through science and technology.

2.      Developing wireless charging technology for electric cars

A grant from the US Department of Energy is helping fund a project to develop wireless charging capabilities for electric vehicles. The Hyundai-Kia America Technical Center (based in Ann Arbor, Michigan) and American company Mojo Mobility are collaborating on the project, which aims to improve the speed and convenience of charging for electric vehicles.

3.      Curing cancer

In 2015, the Korean National Cancer Center signed an agreement with the U.S. National Institutes of Health to share information and work together on cancer treatment and prevention. According to the Korea Herald, “The NCC seeks to set up a database of medical records of its 1.2 million patients who have suffered or survived cancer. Once the database is complete, the NCC plans to analyze the ‘big data on cancer’ for preventive measures and post-recovery treatment of the disease.”

4.      Stopping wildlife traffickers

South Korea and the United States have been working on a range of environmental issues, from climate change to sustainable fishing. But one interesting area of collaboration is on wildlife preservation. According to a Work Program adopted by the two governments in 2013, they are working to “Improve collaboration and communication among judicial, law enforcement, customs, and border security personnel in seizing illegal shipments of wildlife products, investigating wildlife crime, prosecuting wildlife traffickers, and dismantling transnational organized criminal networks.” In a related field, the Work Plan also includes a provision to engage in information exchange and dialogue with the goal of fulfilling wildlife management responsibilities, with an emphasis on the preservation of waterbirds and their habitats, and the restoration of habitat. This includes birds that migrate between the United States and the Republic of Korea, and threatened and endangered species of birds.”

5.      Cooperating on nuclear energy technology

In 2015 the United States and South Korea signed a new nuclear cooperation agreement, or 123 Agreement to replace the original agreement that had been in place since 1984. The two countries have already began to cooperate on “shared objectives such as spent fuel management, assured fuel supply, promotion of cooperation between our nuclear industries, and nuclear security.” An extensive KEI report written last year by former Department of Energy and Department of State official Dr. Fred McGoldrick delves into the details of this new agreement.

Jenna Gibson is the Director of Communications at the Korea Economic Institute of America. The views expressed here are the author’s alone.

Photo from K putt’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

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The DMZ: An Opportunity for Science Diplomacy

By Bradley Sancken

What do the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), Guantanamo Bay, and the Galapagos islands have in common? While two of the three serve important national security functions, all three share a quality that is unique and unlike anywhere else on the planet, vibrant untouched ecosystems that boast endangered and endemic species.

Since the creation of the DMZ in 1953, the 250 kilometer long and 4 kilometer wide boundary has been untouched by human development, allowing for habitats to grow and thrive. The South Korean government and NGOs, like the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), have advocated for the space to be used as a peace park, serving as a focal point of peace between North and South Korea in the hopes of promoting better relations. As of yet, North Korea has failed to embrace the proposal. Chairman of the DMZ Council, Kim Kwi-Gon, proposed a slightly different initiative of a Northeast Asia Ecological Network (NEAEcoNET), a cooperation amongst Northeast Asian nations for a continuous ecosystem. While both of these proposals touch on the concept of inter-peninsula cooperation by broadly engaging all levels of society, the DMZ presents a more specific opportunity that both North and South Korea can support for the sake of their own current and future unified national security, science diplomacy.

Now, what is science diplomacy and why does it hold potential for inter-Korean cooperation? In his speech at the U.S.-Korea Conference on Science, Technology and Entrepreneurship in Atlanta, former Congressman and now President and CEO of the Korea Economic Institute of America, Donald Manzullo, explained that science diplomacy holds many different forms: foreign policy discussions on environmental or scientific affairs that require professional scientific input, the act of foreign ministers discussing laws and agreements that might affect scientific affairs, or the union of international scientists for research. In the first two cases, policy makers and government representatives are the primary actors and scientists serve in consulting roles or as the affected body. The latter, however, is centered on the exchange and/or union of scientists for a common purpose or research goal. This last definition is promising for inter-Korean cooperation because it is not a negotiation among politicians or an attempt to push peace talks on the North. Instead, science diplomacy, in the case of the DMZ, would allow both states to create a joint research team to analyze the ecosystems and developments within the border. One benefit of a scientific mission to analyze and assess the DMZ’s ecosystems is that it is driven by the pursuit for knowledge and is less reliant on civilian engagement and the goodwill of both sides.

Not only is a scientific mission guaranteed to produce a better understanding about Korea’s primal ecosystem, it is also necessary for the future of the Korean peninsula’s health and conservation, making it an invaluable opportunity for North Korea.

Following the ecological disaster solutions seminar hosted by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the first international seminar in North Korea since Kim Jong Un’s rise to power, Margaret Palmer, director of the University of Maryland’s National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center, reported grave circumstances regarding North Korea’s environmental state. Barren fields and hills abound as remnants of both the Korean War and the drought and famine in the 1990s when forests were set ablaze by war or gathered for sources of fuel and nourishment. Overdevelopment of agricultural land, along with over-fertilization of soil with urea, has rendered the soil unbearable for seedlings to take root. This is only further intensified by the fact that without trees, no nutrients, such as carbon, are returned to the soil through decomposition, leaving the soil in poor condition.

Additionally, Dr. Palmer said that when visiting a national park she saw “maybe one or two birds, but other than that you don’t see any wildlife.” Animals are essential parts of the ecosystem helping pollination and the carbon cycle. On top of these issues, the Korean peninsula is subjected to annual Yellow Dust, or Hwang Sa (황사), an atmospheric stream of dust carried from Northern China and Mongolia. This dust carries pollutants, pesticides, viruses, fungi, bacteria, and heavy metals from China’s mass industrial productions, posing a large health risks, such as respiratory infections, for the Korean peninsula. Lastly, climate change and rising temperatures also pose threats to resources such as agriculture, forestry, water resources, and fisheries.

Despite having similar issues to North Korea, research from the Department of Ecology at Peking University suggests neighboring countries underwent a post-industrial environmental upswing, showing that there is a strong correlation between economic development and carbon budgets. While the researchers acknowledge there is not enough research concerning anthropogenic effects on the carbon cycle in East Asia, they observed that the rapid urbanization and economic development in Japan, China, and South Korea resulted in an “ecological transition,” where high CO2 levels are later reduced by vegetation recovery and accumulation in carbon sinks. However, in the case of North Korea, where large areas are without vegetation, it seems unlikely that mass revegetation will take place without a concerted effort by North Korea.

All in all, in light of reports on environmental degradation in North Korea, a research mission to better understand the DMZ’s native ecosystem is in South and North Korea’s best interests. By analyzing the native ecosystem, scientists, conservationists, and policymakers may make more informed decisions about agricultural production, reforestation, aquaculture, and other environmental solutions. In the short term, it is in South and North Korea’s best interest to maintain their environments in efforts curb the effects of immediate concerns, such as Hwang Sa. In the long term, with the assumption that the peninsula will be reunited, it will be essential that the entire country is on the same page environmentally, otherwise reunification and development will pose larger challenges.

Although it will not be the first time science has been used to engage with North Korea, perhaps a joint scientific mission would encourage North Korea to demine the DMZ for the sake of their own stability, knowledge, and health, and cooperate with South Korea for a better future.

Bradley Sancken holds a B.A. in Political Science and Asian Studies from St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota and is a former intern at the Korea Economic Institute of America. The views expressed here are his own.

Photo from the Republic of Korea’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

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July 2015: Summer Heat Only Leaves the Small Stuff in Inter-Korean Relations

By Nicholas Hamisevicz

When it’s a hot summer day in July, one often has to make the strategic calculation of what particular circumstances would require one to leave the friendly confines of a place with working air conditioning. Similarly, it seemed the two Koreas were only going to deal with each other during July under specific conditions. Consistent with many of the interactions in inter-Korean relations recently, the two sides had some significant disagreements that overshadowed the few positive interactions. There’s hope that the 70th anniversary of the end of Japanese occupation of the Korean peninsula in August will provide another context for exchanges; however, the political environment suggests that inter-Korean relations will be more on a shorter term, project-to-project basis rather than on a consistently sustainable basis.

For the two Koreas, there were plenty of reasons not to step outside their current comfort zones and engage in a more meaningful way. The month started off with North Korea boycotting the Universiade Games that took place in Gwangju, South Korea; the reason was believed to be in protest of the United Nations human rights office being set up in Seoul to collect evidence of North Korean human rights violations. Despite Kim Jong-un emphasizing the importance of sports for North Korea, the possibility for another inter-Korean meeting similar to the one at the end of the Incheon Asian Games last year vanished. In addition, despite production at the Kaesong Industrial Complex increasing, the two sides still had trouble with the negotiations over wage disputes. Lastly, North and South Korea bickered over the repatriation of North Korean fishermen whose boat drifted into South Korean waters. South Korea repatriated two of the fishermen but said the other three truly wanted to defect to South Korea.

However, the two Koreas were able to have some smaller slices of interaction. A main effort in July was the two countries working together to study the “abnormal symptoms” that were being displayed by the pine trees in the Mount Kumgang area of North Korea. This forestry effort, along with reports that universities in South Korea, China, and North Korea will share reforestation data and information, provided that small opportunity for positive inter-Korean relations. There is also hope that there will be more interaction soon. The widow of former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung, Lee Hee-ho, is scheduled to travel to North Korea in early August. There is also hope for a possible joint celebration of the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II and the Japan’s occupation of Korea.

July was another month of relatively limited interaction between North and South Korea and no clear possibility for large scale engagement. The disagreements still seem rather contentious and the positive exchanges weren’t significant enough to change the larger calculations between the two sides. Individual joint Korean projects like the forestry cooperation might have to be the way forward for now until a better overall framework and sentiment allows for a more fully, consistent, and sustainable platform for inter-Korean relations.

Nicholas Hamisevicz is the Director of Research and Academic Affairs for the Korea Economic Institute. The views represented here are his own.

Photo from Mike Rowe’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

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Quiet Cooperation: Subtle Ways the UN Engages North Korea

By Mark Tokola

One thing everyone knows about North Korea is that it is isolated.  Visits to the DPRK are controlled and monitored.  Few North Koreans are allowed to travel abroad and then only for specific purposes.  Because it is heavily sanctioned by the international community, international trade and investment is minimal.  North Koreans are not allowed access to international media; and international journalists have little ability to report from North Korea.  It is one of the few places in the world without general internet access.  Secretary of State Hilary Clinton summed up the story of North Korea’s isolation when she resurrected the 19th century term, then used for all of Korea, to describe today’s North Korea — the “Hermit Kingdom.” And yet, North Korea’s isolation is not total.

One venue for international cooperation with the DPRK is through a United Nations regional agency headquartered in South Korea in the ultra-high-tech, Songdo International Business District, 40 miles southwest of Seoul.   Following the UN’s penchant for accurate but difficult-to-remember agency titles, it is the “United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific: Subregional Office for East and North-East Asia,” or ESCAP-ENEA.  ESCAP covers all of Asia and Pacific; the subregional ENEA office is responsible for China, Russia, Japan, Mongolia, North Korea, and South Korea.

Like many international agencies, ESCAP-ENEA’s work is technical and non-flashy, but useful.  Representatives from all six countries meet under its auspices to deal with issues such as: interregional trade facilitation, transportation networks, development cooperation, statistical methodology, and social protection policies.

Environmental cooperation among the same six countries falls under a separate UN body, the “North-East Asian Subregional Program for Environment Cooperation” (NEASPEC), for which ESCAP-ENEA provides the secretariat.  That organization’s work program includes protection of endangered species and migratory birds, desertification, marine protected areas, and reduction of carbon emissions.  On the latter, it is striking that although South Korea’s GDP is $1.79 trillion, compared to the DPRK’s estimated $40 billion, the two countries’ sulfur dioxide emissions are about the same: 951 thousand metric tons per year for the ROK versus 866 for the DPRK.  One of the benefits of the ESCAP-ENEA/NEASPEC system is that it allows for such comparative statistics to be gathered.

North Korea is a member of ESCAP-ENEA and NEASPEC, but predictably is not as full a participant as the other five countries.  Minutes of their meetings show, for example, that DPRK representatives will participate in the meetings that are held in Russia and in China, but not those held in South Korea, Japan, or Mongolia.  Nevertheless, when they do attend meetings, they participate.  At an ESCAP meeting held in Changchun, China in 2012 on “Building Sustainable Ageing Societies” (an ESCAP focus), Ri Chol Hui, Vice-Chairwoman of the DPRK’s “Central Committee of the Korean Federation for Care of the Aged” gave a PowerPoint presentation describing government policy towards elder care, noting that 61.2% of the elder population are cared for by their children.  North Korea has permitted international teams sponsored by NEASPEC to survey migratory bird populations in Rason in the country’s northeast.  North Korea has also provided statistics to ESCAP’s “Asian Highway Network” project, noting with apparent honesty that 220 kilometers of the 320 kilometer-long Pyongyang to Sinuiju highway falls within the category of “bad surface condition.”

Recognizing North Korea’s singularity within the six-nation group, ESCAP has a special project for “Promoting Regional and Economic Cooperation in North East Asia with particular focus on Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).”  Under this rubric, ESCAP has provided training to DPRK officials in areas such as road safety and traffic management, and on the transition of electric railways from direct current to alternating current.  The former program was held in Thailand in March 2014, the latter in Moscow in November 2014.  The South Korean government provides part of the funding to ESCAP to provide technical training for DPRK officials.

Why does this matter?  Partly because it gives a more nuanced view of the DPRK’s international interactions.  It shows that there are venues in which North Korean and South Korean officials already meet to discuss practical cooperation.  ESCAP-ENEA/NEASPEC provides an established means to discuss North-South issues such as biodiversity within the DMZ without having to invent a venue.  It provides a channel for the ROK to fund selected training programs for DPRK officials

What UN regional cooperation does not mean is that the U.S. is shut out of the regional conversation, or that the UN agencies are giving the DPRK a “pass” on its misdeeds.  U.S. representatives often participate in ESCAP-ENEA forums and technical meetings.  The 2014 Korean Armistice Anniversary Message delivered by the ESCAP Executive Secretary, Dr. Noeleen Heyzer, included the following: “The international community is firm and united in not accepting the DPRK as a nuclear-weapons state.  There is strong international consensus on the need for verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”  Tough sanctions and practical cooperation have found a way to coexist within the UN system.

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

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

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Korea and Global Climate Change Negotiations

By Troy Stangarone

On September 23, South Korean President Park Geun-hye and more than 120 world leaders attended the United Nations Climate Summit in New York during the annual opening of the General Assembly. The summit, held as a prelude to the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris next year where world leaders hope to conclude a treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol, served as an opportunity for world leaders to discuss ideas on how to address the issue of climate change and make pledges towards future contributions. While European nations have usually been at the forefront of efforts to curb climate change, in recent years Korea has become increasingly involved in efforts to address climate change.

Traditionally, the issue of climate change has been difficult to address for a series of reasons. Globally, there has been a division between developed and developing countries over who should bear the burden of adjusting to climate change. While developed countries have pushed for all nations to reduce emissions to combat the challenge, developing countries have sought to be exempt from emissions reductions to avoid slowing their economic growth. However, while a solution that only involved developed countries might have previously worked, with China and India now two of the world’s largest emitters, a solution that brings together the developed and developing world is needed. At a local level, issues such as how the adjustment will impact the international competitiveness of industry and the extent to which climate change is seen to be occurring have also impacted the ability to develop domestic support for mitigation initiatives.

In the case of Korea, the issue of climate change is relatively new to the agenda, but its economic development has made Korea a significant source of emissions. The Global Carbon Project estimates that annual emissions from Korea have grown from 13 metric tons in 1960 to 616 metric tons last year, making Korea the 7th largest emitter of carbon in the world behind China, Japan, the United States, and Germany among others. Though, on a per person basis Korea is only the 22nd largest emitter with each Korean emitting on average 13 tons of carbon last year. However, while the average Korean emits less carbon than the average American, they do emit more carbon on average than their counterparts in Japan, Germany, or China where emissions as a whole are greater than in Korea.

Under the Lee Myung-bak administration, Korea began to play greater role internationally as a rising middle power across a range of issues, one of which was climate change. As a middle power, Korea has often sought to serve as a bridge between the developed and the developing world. On the issue of climate change, Korea has pursued a series of policies both domestically and internationally that have raised its profile on the issue.

Following the global financial crisis, South Korea utilized its stimulus package as an opportunity to promote green growth initiatives domestically. In 2009, South Korea pledged to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent from business as usual in 2020 despite being classified as an Annex I (developing) country under the Kyoto Protocol and not having an obligation to cut emissions. Korea followed this up in 2012 by becoming the first nation in Asia to pass legislation to set up an emissions trading scheme (ETS) which is set to come into effect in 2015.

The initial legislation for Korea’s ETS targeted reductions across a range of sectors including a 61.7 percent reduction in emissions from electricity, a 27.7 percent reduction in semiconductors, 31.9 percent in automobiles, 34.3 percent in transportation, and a 27 percent reduction in household emissions. While pressure from the auto industry has led to a delay in a vehicle emissions tax designed to reduce emissions from automobiles, the ETS is still expected to come into effect next year with carbon priced at levels comparable with Europe’s ETS.

Korea also established the Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI), which later became a formal international organization, to help bring together research and best practices to address climate change and other environmental challenges through sustainable and environmentally friendly economic growth. The best practices developed at the GGGI could then serve as a means for developing countries to embrace policies that would promote growth, but also limit future greenhouse gas emissions.

On the international level, Korea serves as the host country for the Green Climate Fund (GCF). The GCF, which is part of the United Nation’s efforts to address climate change, is designed to provide financial assistance to developing countries through public and private investment as they transition to more sustainable forms of economic growth.  At the recent UN Climate Summit, President Park pledged up to $100 million for the GCF’s efforts, while six other countries made pledges raising the total pledged to the GCF to $1.3 billion. Including earlier pledges by Germany and Sweden, $2.3 billion has been pledged to the Fund.

Much as with President Park’s efforts to change perceptions of the impact of unification, Korea is making efforts to change perceptions internationally on the costs of addressing climate change. At the UN Summit, Park noted that “How we view the climate agenda — as boon or bane — will bring huge differences,” while noting the benefits that can come from developing new energy technologies. Korea also contributed intellectually to the debate on whether the costs of climate change would be a “boon or bane,” as President Park said, by being one of seven countries to commission a study through the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate that found that the benefits of improved health, better air quality, and lower fuel costs could potentially mitigate the costs of adjustment.

While Korea is a relatively new participant in the effort to address climate change, it has played an increasingly important role through its efforts to help better understand the challenges and to contribute to the development of policies which would support both a greener world and continued economic growth in developing countries. Additionally, by implementing its own ETS and investing in green technologies, Korea demonstrates to other developing nations that there are steps they can take to improve the environment without sacrificing economic growth.

Troy Stangarone is the Senior Director of Congressional Affairs and Trade at the Korea Economic Institute of America. The views expressed here are the author’s alone.

Photo from Rae Allen’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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Sushi Wars

By Jessica Choi

A few days ago, I went to my friend’s favorite local Japanese sushi bar for the first time, and I noticed that there was bulgogi (Korean beef bbq) on the menu.  My interest was piqued, so I decided to try speaking Korean to the waitress.  Lo and behold, it turns out that the restaurant was owned and operated by a Korean-American family.

As a Korean-American I was amused, because I’ve been to many sushi restaurants in California that are run by Korean-Americans, but I was surprised to come across one in the Washington, D.C. area.  As I chatted with the waitress, she told me her family hopped on the sushi bandwagon, because there has been an explosion in demand for sushi.  I came to discover this local sushi story was part of a global trend that has had effects that go way beyond Japanesethemed restaurants.

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), world per capita consumption of fishery products has nearly doubled between 1961 and 2010.[1]  Asia, as a continent, has the overall highest consumption of seafood.  For insular or coastal countries with high population density such as those in Northeast Asia (China, Japan, the two Koreas, and Taiwan), seafood is a primary source of protein.

China is the world’s largest importer and exporter of fishery products.  Rising disposable income and a growing urban population are contributing to the growing appetite for seafood in China.  In 2010, Chinese imports of fishery products increased by $1.1 billion in just one year.  Japan is the second largest consumer of fishery products, while South Korea and Taiwan do not trail far behind.

With regard to both production and consumption, Northeast Asian countries play a leading role in the international trade of seafood.  Figures from an industry report show that seven of the ten biggest trade routes in the world for fishery products begin or end in Northeast Asia.[2]

The rising demand for fishery products has led to an alarming decline of coastal fisheries, which has been driving fishermen out to international waters far from their homelands.  This has raised the risk of confrontations in disputed international waters, which in turn, has led to the escalation of fishing incidents in recent years that continue to stir diplomatic tensions among countries in the Asia-Pacific region,

The latest episode in a series of maritime disputes occurred this past May, when Chinese crewmen accused of illegally fishing in the Yellow Sea were taken captive by North Korean authorities.  Yes, even allies can hit a rough patch.

A two-month naval standoff between China and the Philippines was triggered in April, when the Philippine Coast Guard came across Chinese fishing vessels in contested waters of the South China Sea.  This illustrates that the “risk of conflict in the South China Sea is significant,” warns Bonnie Glaser, a Senior Fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) based in Washington, D.C.

In a separate incident in December 2011, a clash between South Korean authorities and the captain of a Chinese fishing boat took place.  After the Chinese boat was stopped for illegally fishing in South Korea’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ), it resulted in the death of a member of the South Korean Coast Guard.

In September 2010, Japan’s detention of a Chinese fishing captain for colliding into a Japanese Coast Guard vessel led to an intense diplomatic confrontation between China and Japan.

These and other examples highlight the critical problem of illegal fishing as an instigating factor of conflict in the Asia-Pacific region.  While each incident involves different countries and different factual circumstances, a review of the skirmishes as a whole shows that three types of security are threatened by fish stock depletion and clashes over aquatic resources: food security, economic security, and maritime security.

The first thing to remember when thinking about the concept of food security is that when people get hungry, they might become prone to actions that might disrupt the security of a nation or region.  And, because about 4.3 billion people depend on fish for about 15% of their animal protein intake,[3] overfishing could result in a lack of sufficient fish protein, which could leave a lot of people hungry – and angry.

A growing world population combined with income increases will mean more people wanting and needing fish as part of their diets, which will exacerbate the global food security issues even more.  “With such dependency on fish meeting a rapidly growing population, we simply cannot sustain a situation where 87 per cent of global marine fisheries are at or above full exploitation” said Alfred Schumm, Leader of World Wildlife Fund’s (WWF) global Smart Fishing Initiative.

Economic security is also threatened by the situations that have resulted in fishermen’s skirmishes in international waters.  This is because fishery products are important contributors to the economies of the Asia-Pacific region.

East Asia alone produces over 50% of the world’s fishery yields, consisting of 45% of global wild catch, 90% of global aquaculture (farmed seafood), and 60% of global freshwater catch.[4]    However, the FAO’s 2012 annual report on the State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture (SOFIA) estimates that 57% of fishery resources are fully exploited, while 30% are over-exploited.[5]

The report also pointed out the importance of the fisheries and aquaculture industry in providing employment opportunities and in supporting the livelihoods of about 12% of the world’s population.[6]  Some 55 million people around the world depend on this industry for their income.[7]  Further heightening the difficulties facing fishermen is that the trade of illegally caught aquatic resources “disrupt[s] the market and distort competition by putting legitimate fishers and fish farmers at a disadvantage.”  Therefore, higher standards of rules and regulations in conjunction with strict enforcement are necessary for combating overfishing and poaching, which has been a priority concern in many areas of the Asia-Pacific.

Fishing skirmishes can easily escalate into full-blown national disputes, as some of the examples above illustrate.  Many disputes over maritime boundaries in Asia originate from unsettled maritime territorial claims, so the increasingly fierce competition and demand for marine resources has caused an intensification of conflict in the Asia-Pacific region.

Though China’s maritime feuds have headlined global news, such conflicts do not only occur between China and its neighbors, but also amongst other Asian nations.  For example, tensions between Japan and South Korea were renewed after President Lee Myung-bak’s abruptly visited Dokdo/Takeshima (a small group of islets in the East Sea) just last month.  In addition, even ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) countries clamor amongst themselves over South China Sea’s islands.  Nevertheless, China seems to have its hands full in terms of ongoing maritime disputes.

Asian countries recognize that small incidents could become major ones, so the diplomatic community is starting to take proactive steps.  For example, after the December 2011 incident between China and South Korea, South Korea invited China and Japan to multilateral discussions to address the problem of illegal fishing before any further incidents made such negotiations more difficult.  However, the negotiations resulted in a non-binding agreement where fishing vessels would voluntarily participate in routine inspections while operating in international waters.

With such a high density of the world’s population competing for decreasing resources, international cooperation and engagement will become increasingly important foundations for ensuring regional security.  Governments, fisheries, and ultimately even consumers of seafood products, will need to consider if an agreement without legal force will effectively address the issue at hand.  Such weak agreements lacking strong commitments will only further erode food security and increase the potential for conflict.

Jessica Choi is a master’s degree candidate at American University’s School of International Service and Korea University’s Graduate School of International Studies. The views expressed here are her own.

Photo from WWF France’s photo stream on flickr Creative Commons.

[1] United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO): The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture, 2012

[2] Rabobank: The South Korean Seafood Industry Report, 2006

[3] United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO): The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture, 2012

[4] Rabobank: East Asia Seafood Industry Report, 2007

[5] United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO): The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture, 2012

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The Future Today

By Philippe Cousteau, Chief Spokesperson, USA Pavilion 2012 & Abraham Kim, Ph.D., Vice President, Korea Economic Institute

Tomorrow is the 9th annual Korean American Day. As we celebrate the contributions of Americans of Korean descent, we also look to the future and how events like Expo 2012, Yeosu Korea further weave the Korean and American experiences together.


Korean American Day was declared in 2003 by the U.S. Congress to celebrate Korean Americans on the occasion of the centennial of Korean immigration to the U.S.

January 13 is Korean American Day every year because it was on that day in 1903 that just over 100 Korean immigrants arrived in Hawaii from Korea.  There, they worked in the sugar cane fields. Today, there are nearly one and a half million Korean Americans. The U.S. is the second largest overseas Korean community in the world after China.

Much like most immigrant groups who came to America to start new lives, Korean Americans are an important part of the menagerie of the American spirit.  From the food and traditions to their important part in American commerce, for over 100 years, Korean Americans’ impact and contributions to America have been significant.

It’s important for us to recognize this impact when we talk about the USA Pavilion at the World Expo to be held in South Korea this summer.


This summer, Expo 2012 will be held in the seaside city of Yeosu, South Korea from May 12 to August 12, 2012.  Joining more than 100 countries and eight international organizations, the USA Pavilion will build on the overall theme of “The Living Ocean and Coast,” and the broad impact they have on the economy, environment, and the global community.

The USA Pavilion themes in Yeosu, South Korea will be Diversity, Wonder and Solutions. Through a host of exciting technologies, dynamic storytelling and America’s multicultural lens, the USA Pavilion experience will explore the vital connection between the health and well-being of cultures and communities and the future of one of our most important resources: the ocean. Highlighting the diverse and dynamic nature of America’s ocean and coastal environments, the USA Pavilion will reveal the colorful mosaic of American life. Its stories and experiences will convey the core values of innovation, partnership and hope that define the American spirit.

The USA pavilion at Expo 2012 also represents an opportunity to continue to build the mutual understanding between the United States and Korea that inspires innovative solutions for the challenges that face the global community including:  global security, economic sustainability, and food security.  Through a unique and ongoing partnership, our two nations have advanced practical solutions to the world’s energy and environmental challenges.

Expo 2012 is an opportunity to celebrate this shared vision for a brighter future.

The USA Pavilion 2012 team is proud to be working with the Korean Economic Institute, whose experience and knowledge regarding Korea and Korean-Americans has proved extremely valuable to the project.


This summer also provides an exciting opportunity for American university students who have Korean language skills.  As the official university partner of USA Pavilion 2012, the University of Virginia will administer the Student Ambassadors program, selecting 40 US citizens/permanent resident students from colleges and universities around the country and globe to represent America at the USA Pavilion. The student ambassadors will play many roles in the 12,000-square foot Pavilion. In addition to greeting visitors, government officials and dignitaries, they will provide administrative, protocol and programming support.  This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and those interested have until February 10th to apply at http://www.pavilion2012.org/student-ambassadors/.





Photo from USD Space’s photostream on 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.