Undergraduates from all over the world discuss the reunification of the two Koreas and the path towards peace in Northeast Asia
The 1st KU Peace Camp ended in success with university students from 20 countries.
After five days of animated debate, the participants gave group presentations on the last day of the camp.
Korea University hosted the first KU Peace Camp for Korean and foreign undergraduates from August 27 to 31, 2018, at the International Studies Hall, Korea University.
This camp aims to cultivate next-generation global leaders who will play critical roles in promoting peace in the Korea Peninsula in an ever-changing world, under the theme “A New Vision for Peace on the Korean Peninsula.”
University students from 20 countries, including South Korea, Japan, China, Russia, Pakistan, Malaysia, Israel, Nigeria, Egypt, Congo, Poland, Switzerland, the UK, Bulgaria, Estonia, the US, Mexico, Ecuador, and Canada, attended lectures given by prominent experts in various fields, ranging from international relations in East Asia, to the economy/society/culture of North Korea, and to health and unification studies. They also joined various group activities and field trips to the demilitarized zone (DMZ) and other historical attractions, which were designed to deepen the participants’ understanding of recent developments and prospects of the two Koreas and East Asia.
▲ Jaeho Yeom, President of Korea University (fourth from the left in the front row), and Jong-Wha Lee, Director of the Asiatic Research Institute at Korea University (fifth from the left in the front row), pose for a group photo with participating students after the opening ceremony.
The opening ceremony was held at 9 a.m. on August 27 at the International Studies Hall. In his opening remarks, Jong-Wha Lee, Director of the Asiatic Research Institute at Korea University, said, “The situations surrounding the Korean Peninsula are changing rapidly. Although there’s been some progress, such as the South-North Summit and the U.S.-North Summit, there are still many challenges to be addressed. In this light, I believe that the KU Peace Camp is a much needed platform for future global leaders to have constructive discussions on issues like the denuclearization of North Korea and mutual economic growth between the two Koreas.”
At the ceremony, KU President Jaeho Yeom delivered a congratulatory message in which he briefly explained the history of international affairs in Northeast Asia since the eighteenth century, saying, “We’re witnessing a new momentum towards peace in Northeast Asia. I’m very glad that we were able to invite students from 20 countries, including China, Pakistan, and Nigeria, to this camp, so that they can bring diversity of thought and ideas to the program. The aim of the first KU Peace Camp is to offer a unique opportunity for the students to gain not only valuable knowledge but also a deeper understanding of challenges to peace on the Korean Peninsula through lively discussions and group presentations.”
“I was excited to be able to gain valuable information on North Korea. I hope to have more opportunities to take lectures from experts in various fields and interact with international students,” said Jenny Messikommer, a KU student from Switzerland majoring in Political Science and North Korean Studies, said after the camp. Dagmara Lukano, a Polish student majoring in Computer Science at KU, said, “Inter-Korean relations are directly linked with both the future of South Korean and that of the world. The quality lectures and in-depth discussions with students from all over the world were helpful for broadening my perspective on this issue. And I’m excited to go on a field trip to the DMZ on Thursday.”
On Day 2 of the camp (August 28), around 30 participants were split into two groups for group presentations scheduled for the last day of the camp, and had an hour-and-a-half discussion on presentation topics and format. The two groups were assigned two broad topics of politics and economics, and prepared for their presentations on sub-topics, such as international relations, culture, and national defense.
After the discussion session came the first lecture, titled “Where is North Korea Going?” In this lecture, Yongho Thae, a former diplomat for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, laid out the current situation facing the North Korean people, economic and nuclear weapons policies of the Kim Jong-Un regime, pending issues, and North Korea’s view on international relations.
After the lecture, the students were again divided into two groups to participate in a workshop to prepare for the group presentations. The workshop was led by Moonsung Kang, Professor at the Division of International Studies, and Jai-Kwan Jung, Professor at the Department of Political Science & International Relations. The students narrowed their presentation topics and developed more effective presentation strategies under the guidance of the two KU professors.
The workshop was followed by a special lecture entitled “Challenges for One Korea: Role of Medical Reunification” by Young Hoon Kim, Professor at Anam Hospital at Korea University. Professor Kim discussed medical services integration between the North and the South in preparation for reunification. He explained that, although the two Koreas are connected to one another geographically, historically, and culturally, there is a huge gap in healthcare environments and infrastructure between the two, and that it is necessary to extend medical support to North Korea and encourage joint medical research between them to integrate their healthcare systems. He also stressed the importance of the North-South cooperation, saying, “Cooperation on human health and environmental safety aspects can be beneficial to enhancing wellbeing in not only North Korea but also South Korea.”
On Day 3 (August 29), the camp participants gathered at the International Studies Hall at 9 a.m. to prepare for the last day’s group presentations. The two groups each had intense discussions about the political, economic, and cultural situations in North Korea. After that, with the support of academic advisors, they organized their presentations and reviewed their presentations’ content.
At 10:45 a.m., Brian Myers, Professor at Dongseo University, delivered a special lecture titled “The Risks and Implications of Peace Systems.” Unlike the popular belief that political repression was severe in the 1960s, it was a period of active movements to reunify the Peninsula and where the slogan ‘National Independent Unification’ first appeared,” said Professor Myers, explaining how much Korean people’s perspectives on Korean unification have changed along with the changes of governments. He also discussed new developments in international relations since the inauguration of the Moon Jae-in government, and emphasized the need for a careful approach to inter-Korean relations, saying, “Now, the two Koreas are getting closer to ‘harmony’ more than ever. Ironically, however, this peace system poses the greatest potential risk to peace in the region.” The 30-minute Q&A session at the end of the lecture was filled with lively interaction between Professor Myers and the audience.
At 2:00 p.m., Hyung-min Joo, Professor of Political Science at Korea University, lectured on the subject of “North Korea’s Shadow Economy.” He laid out changes in the economic situation of North Korea, from the Kim Il-Sung regime to that of Kim Jong-Un, and explained different economic sanctions imposed on North Korea under diverse international circumstances and the resultant changes in the country’s shadow economy. The hour-long lecture was followed by a Q&A session, in which Professor Joo responded to students’ lively questions.
After a 15-minute break, Tatiana Gabroussenko, professor of North Korean studies at Korea University, gave a lecture titled “North Korean Pop Culture under the Kim Jong-Un Regime.” Professor Gabroussenko introduced cases where pop culture served as a means of propaganda in North Korea, and pointed out that, when compared with the 1980s, North Korean pop culture is less critical in tone. The students also had a brief chance to watch Wolmido Island, a North Korean film, and a TV show named Our Warm Home, later sharing their impressions.
On Day 4 (August 30), the students went on a field trip to the DMZ (Unification Observatory and the Third Tunnel of Aggression), passing through Imjingak Pyeonghoa-Nuri Park and Dorasan Station. “As a Poli Sci student, I’ve always been interested in issues of inter-Korean relations and North Korea. The KU Peace Camp has given me a rare opportunity to visit the DMZ and Gangwha Island and to gain unusual experiences,” said University of Hawaii student Allison Kell Fluetsch after the trip.
Dania Lyew, a Panamanian student, said, “I’ve been taking special lectures on North Korea and talking about North Korea with other camp participants over the past few days, but seeing North Korea with my own eyes was a bit of a surreal experience. This field trip has taught me a lot about tragic incidents that happened in this country. I wish the day of reunified Korea would come soon.”
Gloria Valeria Duque Molina from Colombia said, “The most exciting part of the camp was talking with students from different countries, with different perspectives. And the field trip, which gave us a chance to see for ourselves the historic places we’ve been talking about in the classroom, was very helpful in better understanding issues related to North Korea.”
On the last day of the camp (August 31), the students delivered group presentations on politics and economics.
The first session of the talks, which was organized in the form of mock six-party talks by South Korea, North Korea, the U.S. China, and Japan, was about political issues. In the talks the representatives of the U.S. welcomed North Korea’s efforts to make progress this year but expressed its regret over North Korea’s constant demand for withdrawal of U.S. forces from South Korea and China and Russia’s lukewarm attitudes over the denuclearization of the North; North Korea expressed its will to normalize relations with the U.S. in an effort to promote peace on the Korean Peninsula. The North Korea team also pointed out that it stopped nuclear tests and took various actions towards denuclearization and peace, and argued that it is now the turn of the U.S. to do something in return; South Korea emphasized that the stability of the Korean Peninsula is a matter of importance to all six countries, and that the North needs to make necessary progress and sign the declaration of the end of war as quickly as possible. It also said that restoration of inter-Korean relations in the fields of medicine and trade will make possible the extension of the Trans-Siberian Railway network eastward to the Korean Peninsula; China expressed its will to support the promotion of peace in the Korean Peninsula and to open to trade agreements to any country. China urged an emphasis on diplomacy rather than sanctions to ensure the denuclearization of the North; Japan argued that North Korea needs to show evidence of full denuclearization in order for Japan to ensure that the North is no longer a threat to Japan. It added that if the North does not make further efforts towards denuclearization, strengthening sanctions against the North is the only option left to Japan; Russia said that extreme measures against the North could backfire by bringing about instability to the Peninsula and that the U.S. needs to ease sanctions against the North. Russia argued that the U.S. should stop ROK-US joint military exercises and the North should denuclearize at the same time. It also expressed its will to contribute to economic integration between the two Koreas.
The second session of the talks was about economic issues. The participants were divided into six groups of the South Korean government, North Korean government, businesses, labor-management relations experts, education experts, and foreign investors: The South Korean government expressed its regret over the shutting down of Kaesong Industrial Complex, because this caused significant loss to the South Korean government, and criticized North Korea for using facilities in the industrial complex without permission of the South; The North Korean government argued that this is not true and said that the resumption of the operation of the Kaesong Industrial Complex is highly likely after the Inter-Korean Summit. The North also said that Kaesong has a huge potential to become a driving force of the economic development in the country and that it wants to take the initiative in resuming the complex as hasty resumption may allow capitalism to spread into the North Korean society, which could get out of control; Businesses argued that stronger safety measures for businesses are required before reopening the industrial complex. Ninety-seven percent of the South Korean companies that operated factories at the complex said that they are willing to go back to Kaesong, but 71% also said that they need stronger legal safeguards and insurance protections, in order to prevent Pyeongyang from arbitrarily shutting down the complex. The labor-management relations experts pointed out that there is no legal basis for the operation of the Kaesong Industrial Complex?no written contract and no criteria for recruitment of workers. They argued that the Labor Law of the Kaesong Industrial Complex should give more power to South Korean businesses over the operation of the complex and should establish regulations on settling conflicts and other issues. The education experts pointed out that the largest demographic in the complex includes high school graduates, those in their 40s, and women (68%) and that these workers should be provided with technical training, safety training, gender equality training, and socio-cultural integration programs. Foreign investors said that although North Korea is shrouded in secrecy, the Kaesong Industrial Complex is an attractive investment destination to them, and that promoting investment in the complex is a win-win for both foreign investors and the Korean Peninsula. They, however, expressed concern about high political risk, language barriers, and a lack of motivation among North Korean workers.
Jong-Wha Lee, Director of the Asiatic Research Institute at Korea University and organizer of the KU Peace Camp said, “Debating pros and cons is an easy part, but reaching a consensus is a whole different matter,” and advised the participants of the importance of striving towards consensus through debate. Lastly, he praised them for their hard work over the five days.
Professor Jai-Kwan Jung, who led the August 28 workshop said, “The main objective of this camp is to provide you with an opportunity to better understand North Korea and the stances of countries involved in North Korean issues. Remind yourself of what you’ve learned over the five days. I’m really impressed how much you’ve prepared for your group presentation in just such a short period of time.” Professor Moonsung Kang commented, “You made a good point about concerns over reopening the Kaesong Industrial Complex and touched on key issues, like workers’ rights, education, training, and foreign investment very well.”
At the closing ceremony, Gil-Sung Park, Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs, expressed his gratitude to the students for their active participation in the program, saying, “The KU Peace Camp is the first step taken by future global leaders towards the peace of the Korean Peninsula.”
Korea University plans to continue to run the KU Peace Camp and other programs to cultivate global leaders who will contribute to the reunification and peace of the two Koreas.
▲ Gil-Sung Park, Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs (front row center) and Jong-Wha Lee, Director of the Asiatic Research Institute at Korea University (front row, fourth from the right) pose for group photos with participating students after the closing ceremony.