Tag Archive | "sports"

South Korean Pitching Prospects Make Strong Impression

By Troy Stangarone

While most players from South Korea come to the majors after having first played professionally in South Korea or Japan, some such as Choo Shin-soo of the Texas Rangers come to the United States as amateur free agents. With minor league baseball’s regular season concluded, here is a look at some of the South Korean players in Minor League Baseball who might be playing in the majors in the years ahead including two pitching prospects that made strong impressions in their fist year in the United States.

Park Hoy-jun, SS, New York Yankees

Park is the most advanced of the South Koreans playing in the minor leagues. He has good contact skills and is a plus runner, but doesn’t hit for much power and may not have the arm to stay at shortstop.  He finished the year hitting .273 with 3 home runs and 16 stolen bases for the Yankees AA team the Trenton Thunder.

Bae Ji-Hwan, SS/2B, Pittsburgh Pirates

Bae is ranked as the 8th best prospect in the Pirates minor league system by MLB Pipeline and the 16th by Fangraphs, two leading sites for minor league prospects. Similar to Park, Bae has good contact skills, but likely more speed on the base paths. A younger prospect, he is also seen as more likely to stick at shortstop and has more potential to grow into some power despite having no home runs this year. He finished the year hitting .319 with 31 stolen bases for the Pirates Class A team the Greensboro Grasshoppers.

Choi Hyun-il, RHP, Los Angeles Dodgers

A potential #1 overall pick for the Korean Baseball Associations’ amateur draft, Choi instead chose to sign with the Los Angeles Dodgers last winter for $300,000.  He possess a mid-90s fastball and a good changeup. Though, he will need to develop a third pitch to succeed long-term as a starter.  Pitching for the Dodgers Arizona rookie league team, Choi is off to a good start to his professional career as he finished his first season in the United States with a 2.63 earned run average, while showing good command of his pitches averaging nearly 10 strikeouts a game and only 1.52 walks per start.

Jin Woo-young, RHP, Kansas City Royals

Another hard throwing right handed pitcher out of South Korea, Jin was reportedly able to throw 95 mph at 16 years old and is the 36th best prospect for the Royals according to Fangraphs. Similar to Choi he has a good changeup, but needs to develop a third pitch if he is going to succeed as a starter going up the minor league ladder. Signed last year by the Royals, Jin pitched his first season in the Arizona rookie league with a 2.35 earned run average while striking out over 10.5 hitters per game, but also giving out over 2.5 walks per game.

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

Photo from Amy Meredith’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

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Is It Time for an MLB Game in South Korea?

By Troy Stangarone

On March 20 and 21, the Seattle Mariners and Oakland A’s will open the 2019 Major League Baseball (MLB) season with two games at the Tokyo Dome in Japan. One of the highlights of the series is the return of Ichiro who started and received a huge ovation in his return. As one of the greatest hitters of his generation in the United States and Japan, the games will provide a fitting capstone to Ichiro’s career as he is likely to retire after the series.

While the upcoming series will help to promote baseball in Japan and also feature the debut of latest player from Japan to play for the Mariners, starting pitcher Yusei Kikuchi, it also raises the question of whether it is time for MLB to play a series in South Korea.

Since the mid-1990s MLB has a played exhibition or regular season games overseas to promote the sport. This year’s season opener will mark the 5th time that MLB has chosen to open the season in Japan since 2000. MLB has also played regular season games in Mexico, Australia, and Puerto Rico, and considered playing games in the Dominican Republic. In 2020, MLB will play a two game series in London.

If the goal of MLB in playing games overseas is to grow the sport, there are two approaches it can take. It can reinforce the sport in areas where it is already popular, such as Japan where the Nippon Professional Baseball league has long been considered the best league outside of MLB, or it can attempt to build the sports in promising markets like Australia where the game is not yet among the major sports.

One of the advantages of promoting the game overseas is expanding the level of talent available to MLB teams. The first Japanese player to come to the United States, Masanori Murakami, arrived in 1964. While there was a gap after Murakami in players from Japan, more recently Japan has become a prime recruiting ground for MLB talent since Hideo Nomo came to the U.S. in 1995 and was followed by stars such as Ichiro, Hideki Matsui, and Shohei Otani. Mexico and Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory, are also promising markets with a long history of being fruitful sources of talent for MLB. In addition, there is the prospect that MLB could expand to Mexico City in the near future.

Australia and the United Kingdom fall into the category of opportunities to grow the game in promising markets. In the case of Australia, MLB has a partnership with the Australia Baseball League, but the game in Australia is still in its infancy with attendance running less than 1,000 fans per game. In Europe, the game has historically had some interest in countries like the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and Italy. Given the success of soccer players in Europe, there is clearly athletic talent that MLB could tap into if it were able to convince some promising athletes to choose baseball over soccer. Playing a series in London is a way to try to grow a fan base in Europe.

While Europe is a promising new market, baseball is significantly more established in South Korea where the game was originally introduced by American missionaries in the 19th century. Similar to Japan, it would seem to be a promising established market in which to grow the game. In contrast to Australia, the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) averages around 11,600 fans per game. As the world’s 11th largest economy it is also relatively wealthy, and with over 50 million South Koreans there is a relatively large potential fan base and talent pool for MLB to tap into.

The KBO is also increasingly seen a place for MLB to find talent and for American players to continue their careers. Current players from Korea include Choo Shin-soo, Ryu Hyun-jin, Oh Seung-hwan and Choi Ji-man. While the KBO also hosts promising future major leaguers such as the pitcher Ahn Woo-jin, third baseman Choi Jeong, and outfielder Na Seong-beom.

In recent years, American and other foreign players have also increasingly gone to the KBO and the NPB to rejuvenate their careers in light of the level of competition each league provides. Eric Thames of the Milwaukee Brewers was able to translate his success in the KBO into a successful transition back to MLB.

MLB over the last two decades has done a good job of building ties with Japan. In addition to five regular season series, MLB on six different occasions has sent post-season All-Star teams on goodwill tours of Japan. In 2013 and 2017, similar ideas were floated for Korea, but nothing has come to pass.

Whether it’s a post-season All-Star tour or a season opening series, it’s time for MLB to deepen its efforts to grow the game in South Korea.

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

Graphic created by Juni Kim, Program Manager, at KEI.

Photo from redlegsfan21’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

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From Colonial Korea to United Korea in the Olympic Games

By Seok Lee

After the Panmunjom Declaration, Chairman of the State Affairs Commission of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea Kim Jong-un and President of the Republic of Korea Moon Jae-in held an historic North-South summit in Pyongyang from September 18 to 20, 2018. They discussed a broad range of topics such as nuclear weapons, demilitarization, the economy, and family reunions and agreed to develop peace and common prosperity in a consistent and sustained way. In this historic summit, most mass media paid attention to the security issues that has been haunting the Peninsula for around 70 years. However, one of the interesting clauses in the declaration is that the North and South agreed to cooperate on a joint North-South bid to host the 2032 Summer Olympics.

South Korea has been a sporting powerhouse in the Olympic Games. Since the 1984 Summer Olympics, South Korea has consistently ranked in the top 10 Summer Olympic medal count. The opening of the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics provided an opportunity for South Korea to become the fifth nation to host the world’s four biggest sporting competitions: the Summer Olympics, the Winter Olympics, the FIFA World Cup, and the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) World Championships in Athletics.

Since the 1980s, the Olympics have provided an excellent opportunity for South Koreans to boast of the power of the Korean nation, a nation that had been largely absent from the world stage since its annexation by Japan in 1910. But Korea’s Olympic history extends beyond South Korea’s recent success at the Games to the colonial period. Although they were officially Japanese, three ethnic Korean athletes—Kim Ŭnbae (Marathon), Kwŏn T’aeha (Marathon), and Hwang Ŭlsu (Boxing)—participated in the 1932 LA Games and were acclaimed as national heroes, being the first Koreans in the nation’s history to compete in the Olympic Games.

Among colonial Korea’s sports stars, Son Kijŏng, the winner of the 1936 Berlin Olympic marathon, stands out as an unsung hero. His gold medal evoked the rabid national sentiment in his fatherland. The Tonga ilbo and the Chosŏn chungang ilbo, the representative Korean vernacular newspapers of the time, blotted out the Japanese flag on his sweatshirt in a photograph of Son on the awards podium, reflecting most Koreans’ national sentiment. The “Japanese Flag Erasure Incident” (Ilchang’gi malso sakŏn) provoked the brutal punishment of the reporters responsible by the Japanese colonial government. Many of them were tortured, put in jail, and laid off.  This story resonated with heroic Korean nationalism and became a part of Korean (sports) history. Indeed, it is still engraved in Koreans’ memory today as the culmination of Korean resistance against Japanese colonialism through sports. In addition, we should not overlook Korean participants other than Son. Before Son’s race in Berlin, three Korean speed skaters—Kim Chŏngyŏn, Yi Sŏngdŏk, and Chang Usik—participated in 1936 Garmisch-Partenkirchen Winter Games. In Berlin, Nam Sŭngnyong (Marathon) won a bronze medal. Kim Yongsik (Soccer), Yi Kyuhwan (Boxing), Yi Sŏnggu (Basketball), Chang Ijin (Basketball), and Yŏm Ŭnhyŏn (Basketball) should be added to the list of Korean Olympians during the colonial period.

The Nazi Games were not the end of colonial Korea’s Olympic fever. The 1940 Olympic Games were awarded to Tokyo by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in 1936. The Japanese empire hoped to host the games to deflect international criticism of its bellicosity caused by the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937–1945) and also to celebrate the 2,600th anniversary of the legendary founding of the Japanese empire by Emperor Jimmu (kigen) in 660 BCE, thereby enhancing nationalism. As soon as Tokyo won the bid, colonial Korea was quick to make the best use of the Olympics for its own sake. The Olympics were not only about sports, but also about a variety of social concerns in colonial Korea: transportation, national security, tourism, and sports facilities, among others. The colonial government and Japanese leadership took the initiative in designing a master plan for welcoming international visitors to propagate a positive image of its colony. Interestingly enough, the colonial government in Korea designed similar schemes that were discussed by Kim and Moon at Pyongyang such as the improvement of railway system across the Korean Peninsula linked to Manchuria and tourism at the Mount Kumgang resort to attract foreign tourists from Europe.

Sports ties between the two countries in the Olympic Games during the Cold War period mirror their rocky political relationship. The two Koreas have competed hard with each other in most sports tournaments including the Olympics. North Korea boycotted the 1988 Summer Olympics amid Cold War rivalry. One year before the 1988 Games, a South Korean passenger plane was bombed by North Korean agents wanting to disrupt the Seoul Olympics, killing all 115 people aboard.

Having said that, the Olympic arena has granted the two Koreas a place for a peaceful relationship.  Even though it did not work well, the first official governmental meeting between two sides after the Korean War (1950-1953) were the Lausanne South-North Korean sport talks of 1963. The 59th IOC General Assembly in Moscow June, 1962, recommended that North and South Korea should participate in the Olympics as a unified team. North and South Korea first marched together under the same flag at the opening ceremony of the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney as a sign of the detente on the divided nation. At the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics, the two Koreas combined their women’s hockey teams: the first joint Korean squad in any sport in Olympic history.

What a coincidence! The year of 2032 appears to be memorable to both Koreas: the century of the Korean athletes’ first participation in the Olympic Games. The tumultuous trajectory of the Korean sports history may finally have a happy ending in North-South Korea Olympic Games. The biggest sporting festival in 2032 will not just be for national liberation or defeating a Cold War enemy, but also for promoting peace in the world, the true spirit of the Olympics.


Seok Lee is the Associate Director of the James Joo-Jin Kim Program in Korean Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. The views expressed here are the author’s alone.

Photo from Maciek Lulko’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

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2018 Baseball Season in Review: Has Choi Ji-man Arrived?

By Troy Stangarone

Baseball is one of the most popular sports in South Korea, and in recent years there have been an increasing number of Korean players in Major League Baseball (MLB). With the regular season concluded and the Rockies eliminated from the playoffs, Ryu Hyun-jin of the Dodgers is the only Korean player still hoping to extend his 2018 season in the playoffs. This past season saw solid performances from Ryu and Choo Shin-soo, as well as a bounce back season from Oh Seung-hwan. But the biggest story for Koreans in MLB is the potential arrival of Choi Ji-man.

Choi Ji-man

Choi has always had good plate discipline and a good swing, but coming up through the minors he was expected to hit more for average than power. His development was also likely slowed from a 50 game suspension for a using performance enhancing substance in 2014 and a broken leg in 2015 that caused him to miss most of the season. Since then he’s bounced around. In 2015, he signed as a minor league free agent with the Orioles, but then was drafted by the Angeles in that off season’s Rule 5 draft. After struggling in his MLB debut with the Angels, he spent time with the Yankees and Brewers before being traded last season to the Tampa Bay Rays. After the trade, Choi finally received consistent at bats in the second half of the season and put up solid numbers, including strong power numbers as he slugged over .500 in 221 at bats. He’ll enter the 2019 season at the peak age of 27, but Tampa is also stocked with a strong farm system, meaning that if Choi wants to establish himself as a regular player in the majors he’ll need to have strong spring and start to the season.

Choo Shin-soo

Despite tailing off in the second half of the season after a scorching first half, Choo produced a second solid season after his 2016 was largely lost to injury. Perhaps more significantly, Choo also passed Hideki Matsui to become the all-time leader in home runs in MLB among players born in Asia.

Oh Seung-hwan

In his rookie season with the Cardinals in 2016, The Final Boss seized control of the Cardinals closer role, but he struggled in 2017 losing his role as closer in St. Louis and ultimately signing in the off season with the Toronto Blue Jays. After a solid first half with the Blue Jays, Oh was traded to Colorado before the trade deadline as the Rockies sought to solidify their bullpen for a playoff push.

Ryu Hyun-jin

Ryu had a strong season for the Dodgers, who are once again World Series contenders, in his second season coming off of a shoulder injury. However, his 2018 season was marred by a torn groin muscle that cost Ryu three months of his season.

Kang Jung-ho

After establishing himself with two strong seasons in Pittsburgh, Kang missed the 2017 season and most of the 2018 season after he was denied a work visa in the United States in the aftermath of his third DUI conviction in South Korea. Kang eventually was granted a work visa this season, but only was able to work his way back in time to play three games in September as the season was coming to a close. As Kang continues to make his comeback next season, he’ll likely have to compete with the Pirates new third baseman Colin Moran for playing time.

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

Photo from arctic_whirlwind’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons. Player stat images created by Juni Kim, KEI’s Program Manager and Executive Assistant. 

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Timeline of North-South Sports Cooperation

By Linnea Logie

The current diplomatic thaw between North and South Korea has given rise to a range of sports exchanges, most notably the historic fielding of a unified women’s hockey team at the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympic Games. Such instances of inter-Korean amity date back to 1991, when unified teams competed at the 41st World Table Tennis Championships in Chiba, Japan.  North and South Korean athletes have since marched under the Korea Unification Flag at opening and closing ceremonies in multiple Olympic and Asian Games, played friendly basketball games in both national capitals, and fielded joint teams in several international sporting contests.

In the past, athletes and observers hoped sports diplomacy would lessen the acrimonious state of relations between Pyongyang and Seoul.  Instead, thorny political and security challenges have repeatedly disrupted the continuation of regular athletic exchanges.  With the Moon Jae-in administration in South Korea adopting an enthusiastic approach to all forms of engagement with North Korea, however, some optimism has returned that bringing together athletes from both sides of the 38th parallel may help advance the cause of peace on the Korean Peninsula.

Linnea Logie is an incoming graduate student with the Security Studies Program at Georgetown University.  She is currently an Intern at the Korea Economic Institute of America. The views expressed here are the author’s alone.  

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

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Is Choo Shin-soo the Second-Best Player Ever from Asia in MLB?

By Troy Stangarone

When Choo Shin-soo makes his first All-Star appearance in tonight’s Major League Baseball (MLB) All-Star Game he will become only the third Korean born player to take part in the mid-summer classic. While it will be a career highlight for Choo to join Park Chan-ho and Kim Byung-hyun as the only Korean born players to be selected as All-Stars, he may also be one of the more underappreciated players from Asia to play in the MLB.

Without question, the best position player from Asia to play in the MLB is Ichiro Suzuki. With more than 3,000 hits, the third most home runs by a player from Asia, 10 All-Star selections, an MVP award, and Rookie of the Year Award, Ichiro stands apart from other players that have crossed the Pacific. What may be in more dispute is that Choo Shin-soo is likely the second-best player from Asia to play in the majors.

Pitchers from Asia have tended to stand out more than position players in the MLB. Starting with Park Chan-ho, there have been a string of pitchers to come to the United States and became stars. The Yankees’ Marhiano Tanaka and the Cubs’ Yu Darvish are current star pitchers from Japan. When it comes to position players, some like Koske Fukidome who debuted with a two-home run game, have quickly faded. Hideki Matsui might be the default answer for the best position player from Asia after Ichiro, but that may no longer be the case.

While the idea that Choo might only be surpassed by Ichiro among Asian born players in the history of MLB is not likely the casual fan’s first impression, it is a debate worth having. One way of judging players performance is how many wins above replacement (WAR) that they produce. The idea behind WAR is essentially a measure of the value of a player to their team in terms of contribution to wins over an average replacement player. As MLB heads into its All-Star break, Jose Ramirez of the Indians, Mike Trout of the Angels, and Mookie Betts of the Red Sox lead the way with 6.5 WAR. In essence, they have been worth six and a half more wins for their respective teams than a replacement level player. Choo currently ranks 40th in MLB with 3.0 WAR.

Among players from Asia, Choo trails only Ichiro in terms of career WAR and has surpassed all of the pitchers who have come to the majors from Asia. Over his career, Choo’s performance on the field has been worth 34.6 WAR to his teams. His career WAR is closing in on three times that of Hideki Matsui (34.6 to 13.1), and so far he has achieved that only playing for more seasons than Matsui. Beyond his career WAR totals, Choo has had three seasons in his career where he has produced seasons of 5 WAR or greater, while Matsui topped out at 3 WAR during his best season.

In addition to being named an All-Star for the first time, Choo achieved a new milestone this year when he passed Matsui to become the all-time home run leader among Asian players. Choo enters the All-Star break with 186 home runs.

While some might argue that Choo has played more seasons than other Asian players, his per season WAR averages compare well. Though, it will be interesting to see if Yu Darvish and Masahiro Tanaka, two players with better career WAR averages, are able to have better careers in the end.

Others in time, such as Shohei Ohtani, may surpass the Choo’s achievements, but as he comes near the end of his playing career he is arguably the second most successful Asian player to play in the major leagues. Choo might not have received the fanfare of players such as Daisuke Matsuzaka, Hideki Matsui, or Koske Fukidome when they came to the United States, but his career will likely surpass theirs and other well-known names.

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

Photos from Keith Allison’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

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Korea- Mexico Relations: Where Ties are a Win

By Kyle Ferrier and Linnea Logie

While South Koreans celebrated their team’s upset victory over Germany in the World Cup earlier this week, no country was happier about the win than Mexico. The South Korean “Reds” late game heroics against Germany advanced Mexico to the next round of the tournament despite Mexico’s simultaneous 3-0 loss to Sweden, causing pro-Korea euphoria to sweep across the country. Videos of people celebrating outside of the South Korean embassy in Mexico City, hoisting Koreans on their shoulders to a chorus of cheers, and pictures of stores offering heavy discounts to Koreans flooded the internet. Although it may seem like an unusual pairing at first glance, Koreans and Mexicans actually have a long history of working together. Below are some key areas of cooperation beyond sports.

Official Relations

Diplomatic history

Mexico and South Korea formally established diplomatic relations in January 1962 driven by South Korean leader Park Chung-hee’s efforts to open new markets for exports. South Korea opened an embassy and appointed an ambassador shortly thereafter, while Mexico waited until 1978 and 1987 to open an embassy in and post a resident ambassador to Seoul, respectively. The Korean Embassy in Mexico City has played a key role in spreading Korean culture, particularly from when the first bilateral cultural agreement was signed in 1966 through the late 1990s when the two countries first started a dialogue on educational and cultural projects, which continues today and has produced numerous programs such as festivals and museum exchanges. In international relations, both countries are middle powers and belong to the informal middle power partnership known as MITKA (an acronym for the members of Mexico, Indonesia, Turkey, Korea, and Australia).

North Korea

Mexico and North Korea first established diplomatic relations in 1980. Mexico City is one of only 48 cities in the world to host a North Korean embassy, but Mexico does not have an embassy in Pyongyang. In protest of North Korea’s sixth nuclear test in September 2017, Mexico expelled the North Korean ambassador Kim Hyong Gil. In 2017, reported North Korean exports to Mexico were valued at $6,102,754.

FTA negotiations

South Korea and Mexico officially launched negotiations for a free trade agreement in 2007, but talks stalled because of Mexican concerns that a deal could have widened its trade deficit with Seoul. However, amid growing protectionism, both countries have announced a renewed interest in accelerating negotiations. A Mexican government official has even recently stated, “We have selected strategic partners worldwide, and in Asia, our major strategic [economic] partner is Korea.”

People to People Links


Mexico is a popular destination for South Korean honeymooners. It also may be gaining popularity among retirees as an affordable travel spot. Last year, 75, 415 South Koreans visited Mexico, up from 63,661 in 2016. From January through April 2018 this year, 30,230 South Koreans travelled to Mexico, which is a third more visits than during the same period in 2017. While fewer Mexicans travel to South Korea, it is becoming a more popular destination. From January through May this year, 9,509 Mexicans have visited South Korea, a nearly 50 percent increase from the same period last year.


The Korean culture wave is swelling in Mexico. Korean culture has increasingly entered homes throughout Latin America in recent years by way of K-pop and Korean dramas, giving rise to fan clubs for South Korean actors and music groups. Mexico City was one of only two cities in 2014 to host Music Bank¸ a Korean music show featuring live performances of multiple K-pop groups outside of South Korea. South Korean music groups are increasingly releasing songs in Spanish, including the girl group Crayon Pop which collaborated with the Mexican boy band BD9 for the song “Get Dumb.” When Mexicans wanted to show their appreciation to South Koreans after their World Cup victory they played K-pop on local radio stations and bought songs from groups like BTS, whose song “Fake Love” climbed 31 spots on the Mexican iTunes Charts on the day of the game.

Trade and Investment

Mexico is South Korea’s largest Latin American trading partner, while South Korea is Mexico’s third largest export destination in Asia, after China and Japan. South Korea exported nearly $11 billion in goods to Mexico last year, a 12.5 percent increase from 2016, and Mexico exported about $4.4 billion to South Korea, a 20 percent increase from 2016. South Korean has invested $5.6 billion in Mexico, while Mexican investment in South Korea is around $60 million. Over 1,800 Korean companies operate there. South Korea’s main exports are liquid-crystal display devices, optical devices and instruments, electronic parts, auto parts, vehicles, and electrical machines, appliances and equipment. Mexico’s main exports to Korea include crude oils, lead minerals and concentrates, zinc ores, silver ores, copper ores, and electronic devices.

Kyle Ferrier is the Director of Academic Affairs and Research at the Korea Economic Institute of America. Linnea Logie is currently an Intern at the Korea Economic Institute of America and is also an incoming graduate student with the Security Studies Program at Georgetown University. The views expressed here are the authors’ alone.  

Image by KEI’s Jenna Gibson.

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The 2018 PyeongChang Winter Paralympics and North Korea’s Record on People with Disabilities

By Robert King

The Olympic torch flickered out a week ago bringing the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympics to a close after a spectacular techno light show featuring traditional Korean folk performers combined with the best of K-pop. The pentagonal stadium, however, will be dark for only a few days before the opening ceremony of the PyeongChang 2018 Paralympic Games on March 9.

The Paralympic Games are an international multi-sport event for athletes with disabilities, which grew out of a modest gathering of disabled British World War II veterans in 1948. It has become a major international sports event, and since the 1960s the Paralympic Games have paralleled the Olympic Games in venue, timing, and international participation. Since 1976, the Winter Olympics have been followed by Paralympic games. The PyeongChang 2018 Winter Paralympic Games are the first winter Paralympics hosted by the Republic of Korea.

The participation of North Korean athletes in the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Paralympics is the first time disabled athletes from the North have been involved in the Winter Paralympics. North Korean Paralympic athletes participated in summer games in London in 2012 and in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.

On February 27 the South Korean Ministry of Unification announced the North will send a 20-member team with six athletes and four officials from the North’s Paralympic Committee. Only two of the athletes will participate in the games, however, both in Para-Nordic skiing events.

The two DPRK skiers who will participate in the games are novices, one of the young men only began skiing in December of 2017. To qualify for the PyeongChang Paralympics, however, both participated in Para-Nordic Skiing World Cup event at Oberreid, Germany, earlier this year. Both, however, have high hopes of winning medals in PyeongChang.

Based on inter-Korean talks in January regarding North Korean participation in the just-ended PyeongChang Winter Olympics and the upcoming Paralympics, it was originally expected that there would be a 150-member delegation from the North for the Paralympics. The Ministry of Unification, however, suggested that the lack of musicians and cheerleaders for the Paralympics was because “North Korea seems to think that it has already partly contributed to an improvement of inter-Korean ties by sending an art troupe and a cheering squad to the PyeongChang Olympics.”  Apparently greater effort for the Paralympics is unnecessary—a clear signal that North Korean participation was principally political.

The involvement of the DPRK in the Paralympics highlights the issue of treatment of the disabled in the North. In the past there were reports in 2006-2008 that persons with disabilities were banned from living in the capital city Pyongyang, and the only persons with disabilities who were treated with respect were veterans whose disabilities were attributed to American brutality in the Korean War. Professor Vitit Muntarbhorn, the first UN Special Rapporteur for human rights in the DPRK, also reported this to the UN Human Rights Council.

Two elements were probably important in encouraging North Korean leaders to improve the treatment of people with disabilities.

First, the criticism of the North’s human rights in the United Nations.  In 2009 the DPRK officials participated in their first Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in the UN Human Rights Council at a plenary session in Geneva. A high-level delegation, including a number of officials from Pyongyang, maintained in the country’s report and public statements at the UN that the country’s human rights were excellent and had no deficiencies. The 167 recommendations made by other Member Countries of the UN to North Korea in the context of the UPR process, however, suggested serious issues in a number of areas. Representatives from many member countries called for attention to specific human rights deficiencies. Among the problems on which the United States and a few other countries urged improvement was in the area of persons with disabilities.  North Korea has been sensitive to this criticism from UN member countries.

The United States raised this issue based on the belief that this was an area that was less sensitive to the North Korean leadership. Freedom of speech, freedom of movement, freedom of religion, and such rights were a threat because they could undermine authoritarian rule. Humane treatment of persons with disabilities, however, was simply a humanitarian concern that would pose no threat to the existing regime.

Second, elite families include individuals with disabilities, and these leaders likely pressed for government programs to help family members. It is clear, for example, that those individuals who are participating in the Paralympics are from elite families. The skiers who qualified for the PyeongChang Paralympics are from Pyongyang—and only the elite are permitted to live in the capital city. Furthermore, foreign travel is a privilege to reward the worthy elite.  Travel to Germany for the qualifying Para-Nordic Skiing competition and to South Korea for the Paralympics are a reward extended only to families of the favored elite.

Because of this desire to reduce the criticism of its human rights record in the United Nations, the North Korean leadership has taken steps to improve conditions for persons with disabilities.  As the North Koreans approached their second Universal Periodic Review in the UN Human Rights Council, the DPRK signed the Convention on People with Disabilities (an international agreement created and negotiated through the United Nations).  This was announced by DPRK delegates in their 2014 second UPR report.

One of the most dramatic indications of the North Korean progress on disability rights was the country’s willingness to host the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities in May 2017. Catalina Devandas-Aguilar, a Costa Rican diplomat, has been the Special Rapporteur since the position was created in 2014.  She was the first UN human rights official permitted to visit Pyongyang.  All UN Special Rapporteurs on DPRK human rights issues and the Chair of the UN Commission of Inquiry on DPRK human rights have made repeated efforts to visit and all have been denied by Pyongyang. Ms. Devandas-Aguilar reported favorably on the results of her visit, though she expressed regret that she was denied access to some ministries relevant to her visit, and she recommended needed improvements in disability rights practices.

North Korea has made progress on dealing with its citizens with disabilities, and these positive steps have been reported on in some detail by Kati Zellweger in a 2014 report for the Shornstein Research Center at Stanford University. John Feffer has also summarized and gave a more recent report on North Korean efforts on disabilities in a 2017 blog posting for 38 North. Both reports praise the progress that has been made, but both also acknowledge and discuss the limitations and the needs for additional effort.

The participation of a few North Korean Paralympians in the PyeongChang Paralympics is a positive step forward in the recognition and implementation rights of disabled DPRK citizens.  At the same time, however, North Korean participation is motivated much more by the political effort to improve Pyongyang’s political relationship with South Korea. The goal is to gain South Korean assistance to undermine and evade international sanctions on the North imposed because of its hostile and threatening nuclear and missile programs, and also an effort to create division between South Korea and the United States.

North Korea’s progress on rights for people with disabilities should be acknowledged and welcomed, but—despite these positive steps in this one area—its human rights record still remains one of the worst in the world.

Robert R. King is a Non-Resident Fellow at the Korea Economic Institute of America. He is former U.S. Special Envoy for North Korea Human Rights.  The views expressed here are his own.

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

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Meet the Korean Musicians who Rocked the PyeongChang Closing Ceremony

By Jenna Gibson

At the Closing Ceremony of the PyeongChang Winter Olympics yesterday, a wide variety of South Korean musicians showed the breadth of Korean music. From today’s hottest k-pop stars to metal to traditional Korean sounds, here is our look at the musicians who showed the world what Korean music has to offer. And, at the bottom, check out our Spotify playlist so you can sample more music from these great artists!


Yang Tae-Hwan

Just 13 years old, guitarist Yang Tae-Hwan rocked an electric guitar version of Vivaldi’s classic “Winter,” capturing the Internet’s attention immediately. Discovered at age 10 on the Korean show “Star King,” which allows ordinary people to come show off their talents, Yang has plenty of awesome music on his YouTube channel to keep you rocking out long after the Games are over.



Probably the most epic performance of the night, rock group Jambinai captivated the stadium with a powerful rendition of their song “Time of Extinction” backed by 80 musicians playing a traditional Korea instrument called the geomungo. The group mixes rock and metal influences with traditional Korean instruments, and describe their music as “POST ROCK, METAL, DARK, TRADITONAL, Avantgarde but NOT 퓨전국악 [fusion traditional Korean music] EVER.”


Jang Sa-ik

Debuting as a singer in 1994 at age 46, Jang Sa-ik has won acclaim for his powerful voice and emotional lyrics, often incorporating his background studying traditional Korean musical instruments and sounds into his music. He sang the Korean National Anthem at the Closing Ceremony accompanied by 23 children, representing the fact that PyeongChang was the 23rd Winter Olympics.


Second Moon

Evoking Korean traditional pansori sounds and mixed with Western instrumentals, Second Moon is an ethnic fusion band founded in 2004. They’re most famous for their OST music, creating songs for hit Korean dramas like Love in the Moonlight and The Legend of the Blue Sea.


Oh Yeon Joon

Known as “Jeju Boy” because of his island hometown, 11-year-old Oh Yeon Joon was discovered in 2016 on a singing competition show for children called “We Kid.” Yesterday, he brought his bright, clear voice to the closing ceremony, where he performed the Olympic Anthem.



Rapper, singer, songwriter, dancer – as NBC Commentators Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir noted, CL can do it all. Formerly the leader of the now-disbanded k-pop supergroup 2NE1, CL has since started a solo career, periodically making inroads into the American market through appearances on The Late Late Show and collaborations with artists like Diplo. She performed not only one of her solo songs, “The Baddest Female,” but also the iconic 2011 2NE1 hit, “I Am the Best.”



Originally formed as two groups, targeting both the Korean and Chinese markets and releasing all their music in both Korean and Mandarin (and now making a recent debut in Japan), this international powerhouse performed some of their hit songs along with a dance solo intro featuring a more traditional Korean style. With lyrics like “Through this music, when we sing with one voice together, we get stronger,” EXO’s 2017 song “Power” brought a great Olympic spirit of unity to the Closing Ceremony.


Martin Garrix/DJ Raiden

In a bit of a disappointment for the many Twitter users hoping the night’s “surprise musical guest” would be Psy, Martin Garrix closed out the show, hyping up a massive dance party to round out the night. With Garrix and Korean DJ Raiden pumping up the crowd, the final performance put a fun note on the ending of the 2018 Olympic Games in PyeongChang.



Jenna Gibson is the Director of Communications at the Korea Economic Institute of America. The views expressed here are the author’s alone. Image from Republic of Korea’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

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South Korean Athletes to Watch at the PyeongChang Olympics

By Yeonsu Kim and Minhee Lee

Despite the fact that South Korea is not necessarily well known for winter sports, the country won the right to host the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics after several attempts in 2010 and 2014. South Korea has high expectations for PyeongChang, with the team hoping to obtain eight gold medals, four silver medals, and eight bronze medals from a star packed team that includes Park Je-un, Choi Da-bin, and Yun Sung-bin. Check out our list below of the South Korean athletes to watch for each sport in PyeongChang and when you can watch them go for the gold.

  • Alpine Skiing

Men’s Downhill (Sun, 11 Feb)
Men’s Alpine Combined Downhill (Tue, 13 Feb)

Jeong Dong-hyun, who won the gold medal at the 2011 Winter Asian Games and ranked 27th last January in Switzerland, is expected to break the top 20 in PyeongChang. This would be a significant accomplishment, as South Korea has never ranked in the top 20 in Alpine Skiing at the Olympics. Jeong has previously been a national team member three times – at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, the 2011 Winter Asian Games, and the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

  • Bobsleigh

2-man Heat (Sun, 18 Feb)

The team of Won Yoon-jong and Seo Yeong-woo were ranked first in the world during 2015-2016 season. Even though they moved down to 46th last year, they are still strong candidates for a medal in PyeongChang. The bobsleigh skeleton team as a whole is hoping to grab the first Olympic medal in South Korea’s sleigh history, aiming for two gold medals and one bronze medal.

  • Cross-Country Skiing

Men’s 15km + 15km Skiathlon (Sun, 11 Feb)
Ladies’ 7.5km + 7.5km Skiathlon (Sat, 10 Feb)

Kim Magnus is a rising star and is considered a medal candidate in these games. He made his debut on the adult stage last year, improving from a top 90 ranking to 40th place this year. In addition, Lee Chae-won, who was born in PyeongChang, and the oldest player on the Korean team is considered a ‘legend’ in cross-country skiing, has won 45 gold medals in local winter games that was the highest number of gold medals in South Korea’s national record. She is hoping to place in the top 20 in PyeongChang.

  • Curling

Mixed Doubles Round Robin (Thu, 8 Feb)/ Women’s Round Robin (Thu, 15 Feb)

The Korean women’s curling team consists of six members under the guidance of coach Kim Min-jung and led by athlete Kim Eun-jung, who is in charge of skipping. The Korean national team won the silver medal in the Asian Games in Sapporo last year, the gold medal in the Asia-Pacific curling championships, and the gold medal in the Finland Master Tour tournament.

Kim Chang- min, the leader of men’s curling team, nabbed the Asia- Pacific championship gold medal and the team were runners-up in the Boost National Grand Slam last year. With these impressive track records, both the women’s curling team and men’s curling team are expected to have good performances in PyeongChang.

  • Figure Skating

Pair Skating Short Program— Short Skating (Wed, 14 Feb)
Free Skating (Thur, 15 Feb)

Choi Da-bin is the 2017 Asian Winter Games champion and a five-time South Korean national medalist (three silver, two bronze). She placed in the top ten at the 2017 World Figure Skating Championships, 2017 Four Continents Figure Skating Championships, and twice (2014, 2015) at the World Junior Figure Skating Championships. She is expected to perform well in PyeongChang and follow in the footsteps of Korean figure skating legend Kim Yuna.

  • Freestyle Skiing

Men’s Moguls Qualification 1 (Fri, 09 Feb)

The first time Choi Jae-woo won a Korean national alpine skiing contest, he was seven years old. At age 10, he began earnestly seeking a life in competitive skiing. In 2009, he made the national team and won bronze at the 2012 World Junior Alpine Skiing. He became the first South Korean to make the Olympic finals at the Sochi Winter Games in 2014 and is expected to compete for a top spot in PyeongChang.

  • Ice Hockey

Korea vs. Switzerland (Sat, 10 Feb)

Park Yoon-jung, one of the Korean players on the Korean women’s ice hockey team, was adopted by American parents. In 2016, Park reclaimed her Korean citizenship, and in this upcoming Olympics she will be playing for Korea while her sister will be a national team member for the United States. With her Korean citizenship and Korean uniform, Park won all in five competitions in the 2017 Ice Hockey World Championships. Even though there is only a slim possibility that the U.S. and Korea will face each other in PyeongChang, these siblings competing for the two countries will surely be a big story during this Olympics season.

  • Luge

Women’s Singles Run 1 (Mon, 12 Feb)

Aileen Frisch will represent South Korea at the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics. Frisch won gold medals at the Junior World and Junior European Championships, but retired from luge racing after she failed to be included on the senior German squad for the 2015/16 season. Then she was approached by the Korea Luge Federation (KLF) to race for Korea. Germany is a luge powerhouse, winning every gold medal at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, but with Frisch on the team South Korea may have a chance to compete for a medal in PyeongChang.

  • Nordic Combined

Individual Gundersen NH/10km, Ski Jumping Trial Round (Wed 14, Feb)

Park Jae-un, who is the only Korean player to compete in the Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Nordic Complex, will open a new chapter in the history Korean Nordic skiing. In 2006, he won three national championships, and he was the national representative for ski jumping. He obtained 30th place in the Nordic Combined World Cup held in PyeongChang last February. He is aiming at the achievement of mid-level or higher using the home court advantage of competing in South Korea.

  • Short Track Speed Skating

Ladies’ 500m Heat 1  (Sat, 10 Feb)
Men’s 1,500m Heat 1 (Sat, 10 Feb)

Choi Min-jung was awarded her first senior individual gold medal ahead of Arianna Fontana from Italy when she crossed the finish line of the women’s 1500m final for the second ISU Short Track World Cup of the 2014-2015 season held in Montreal, Canada. At age 16, she became the 2015 Overall Ladies World Champion. In 2017, she won a gold medal in the Winter Asian Games for the 1,500m and 3,000m, and a silver medal for the 1,000m. She is expected to earn gold medals in 500m and 1,000m in PyeongChang based on her performance at the last four World Cups.

On the men’s side, Lim Hyo-jun became a member of the South Korean national team for the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics through the 2017/18 selection match. He has great skills in overtaking other skaters, especially on the inner course and outer course. Lim Hyo-jun is expected to earn a medal in the 1,500m.

Hwang Dae Heon is another South Korean short track speed skater to watch. In the 2016/17 season, he was named Rookie of the Year by the Korea Skating Union. He was a silver medalist at the 2015/16 World Junior Championships. At World Cup events, Hwang has been on the podium 17 times. He is five-time gold, nine-time silver and three-time bronze medalist at the Speed Skating World Cup in the 500m, 1000m, 1500m and 5000m relay.

  • Skeleton

Men Heat 1 (Thur, 15 Feb)

Yoon Seong-bin participated 2014 Winter Olympics as a Korean national team member. He got the first gold medal of the 2015-2016 season at the International Bobsleigh & Skeleton Federation (IBSF) World Championships. After that, Yoon was ranked first in the world at the 2017-2018 season IBSF World Championships. Even though he started skeleton late in life compare to other players, he is a strong candidate for medals in this Olympics.

  • Ski Jumping

Ladies’ Normal Hill Individual Trial Round for Competition (Mon, 12 Feb)

Park Kyu-rim was ranked third in the International Ski Federation’s FIS Cup held in Whistler, Canada last December, marking her the first time on the podium. At the PyeongChang Olympics, she is not classified as a medal contender. However, her participation is still historic for South Korea, because Park is the first female Korean national ski jumper to compete in the Olympics, and the only one competing this year.

  • Snowboard

Men’s Slopestyle Qualification Heat 1 Run 1 (Sat, 10 Feb)

Lee Sang-ho was ranked 20th out of 53 participants in the Snowboarding World Championship in 2013. In 2014, he won a silver medal in the International Ski Federation FIS Cup, and in 2015 he obtained a bronze and a gold medal as well. He was the first South Korean gold medalist at the Snowboarding World Cup. He is currently ranked ninth in the FIS World Cup ranking. After he got a gold medal in 2017 in Japan, Lee’s success propelled alpine snowboard’s popularity in South Korea. With his skills, Lee is viewed as one of the possible gold medalists at this Olympics.

  • Speed Skating

Men’s 5,000m (Sun, 11 Feb)

In 2010, Lee Seung-hoon established new Korean record at the Asian Championships in the 10,000m with a time of 13:21:04. That year, Lee also won a silver medal and a gold medal at the Vancouver Winter Olympics, where he broke his Olympic record in the 10,000m with a 12:58:55 time. As the king of long distance speed skating, Lee will participate in PyeongChang in the 5,000m, 10,000m, Outpace Team and Mass Strat, and looks to earn medals in each game.

In addition, Mo Tae-beom became the first Korean gold medalist in his sport and recorded 01:09:82 at the 2010 Olympics. At the 2014 Olympics, he was ranked fourth in the Men’s Speed Skating 500m. Even though he didn’t continue his streak after the Vancouver Olympics, he is still expected to become a medalist in PyeongChang.

Yeonsu Kim  is currently an Intern at the Korea Economic Institute of America as part of the Asan Academy Fellowship Program. She is also a student of Sogang University in South Korea. Minhee Lee has a Master’s degree in Strategic Public Relations in The George Washington University and is currently an intern at the Korea Economic Institute of America. The views expressed here are the authors’ alone.

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About The Peninsula

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