Cambodia between Japanese money and North Korean solidarity

Cambodia between Japanese money and North Korean solidarity

According to the Bangkok Post, Japanese money is worth more than North Korean solidarity to Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen:

“Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen appealed to his North Korean counterpart Kim Yong Il to release remaining Japanese citizens abducted by that country nearly 30 years ago, a government spokesman said Thursday.

Spokesman Khieu Kanharith made the announcement while briefing journalists after the first day of talks between Kim, the Cambodian government and a 30-strong North Korean delegation, which includes the North Korean ministers of foreign trade, agriculture and culture.

“Cambodia is not the North Korean government,,” Kanharith quoted Hun Sen as saying, “so we can only suggest. However we are also a friend of Japan, and when you release the hostages, I think relations between North Korea and Japan will improve rapidly.”

This is actually quite a diplomatic coup by Japan, considering the historical association between Cambodia and North Korea.

Cambodia and North Korea continue to maintain close diplomatic relations that began during the Cold War. Former King Sihanouk makes frequent trips to North Korea and has been a long time supporter of North Korea. Cambodia is home to a large proportion of North Korea’s expatriate community (the ones that are not imprisoned on return) and is a preferred holiday destination for the elite. Such is the relationship that the North Korean Government gave Sihanouk a personal gift of a bodyguard unit composed of highly trained North Korean personnel.

From reports, the level of trade remains important too with North Korea’s Prime Minister Kim Yong-Il signing agreements on shipping and trade and later scheduled to meet Senate and National Assembly leaders. Former King Sihanouk will also host a gala banquet for the North Korean delegation on Friday night at the Royal Palace.

The State of North Korean Studies

The State of North Korean Studies

Another guest post, this time on somewhat of a different subject. But I must say, it does give me food for thought as an aspiring student!

The State of North Korean Studies

I would like to present readers with an objective opinion on the state of scholarship relating to North Korea – it is very poor.

In the first instance, it is natural to wonder why the subject of ‘North Korean studies’ even exists. It is after all more precise to classify all such work as  ’Korean studies’ and to further sub-classify the area as ‘political science’. But rather than be satisfied with this, there has emerged a half-subject, a grotesque and misconfigured academic subject of ‘North Korean studies’.

The weakness of the classification lies in the level of interest paid to the subject by social scientists of repute. In ‘North Korean studies’, there is no theoretical debate amongst a number of leading scholars from recognized schools of thought, nor is there a tacitly understood agenda that guides research efforts, such as exist amongst scholars in other disciplines. ‘North Korean studies’ exists in an academic vacuum to which journalists, ex-government officials and creative writers are sucked in, with their tritest opinions being held as respected scholarship.

‘North Korean studies’ counts amongst it key publishing opportunities a number of short-lived, little known journals that, while occasionally having actual scholars, are most often the domain of second-rate post-graduate, first publication efforts, which will undoubtedly disappear from the writers resume as soon as they publish elsewhere. Changes in government, both in South Korea and here in the US, seem to fill the pages of these journals with the opinionated diatribes of the disaffected bureaucrat, adding little to academic debate and adding much less to the academic credibility of ‘North Korean studies’.

The vast majority of works published on North Korea would not obtain a pass grade as an undergraduate essay. Many totally lack in social sciences research methodology, perhaps reflecting the tendency of North Korean studies to attract journalists, ex-government officials and creative writers rather than academics.

If North Korean studies is to become a recognized discipline, worthy of analogous area studies disciplines such as Chinese studies, Korean studies or Japanese studies,  then a more rigorous research agenda is required. The discipline should move away from opinionated attempts to predict the future, such as ’peace regimes in Northeast Asia’ that so predominate the field, and instead focus on a more methodologically sound agenda. Examples could include historical research (recent pieces utilising released Soviet archival material have been one of the only shining lights in the field), linguistic research (from which much is yet to be learnt) and cultural studies (studies below the radar of current political regime such as music, cinema, folk culture and literature). Ultimately, such studies would provide a much better guide to contemporary policy makers than opinionated ideas on the Six Party Talks from which the research source is a series of Korea Times times articles supplemented by the author’s access to the State Department!

North Korean studies has much promise, but its focus really needs a change!

Security Council Report on Korean affairs

Security Council Report on Korean affairs

There is a new Security Council Report Monthly Forecast on North Korea available now. For those that weren’t aware, the Security Council Report is an independent external reporter on the work of the Security Council and its overall performance. According to SCR itself, it is:

…an independent not-for-profit organisation in affiliation with Columbia University’s Center on International Organization.  Security Council Report was founded with the encouragement of the former UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, and with the support of the governments of Canada and Norway, the Rockefeller Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, each of which have nominated representatives to the Governing Board…

The vision for Security Council Report stems from the belief that the lack of consistent, high quality, publicly-available information about the Council’s activities—and those of its subordinate bodies—is a consistent barrier to the effective performance of the Council itself as well as constituting a major handicap for the member states at large, and the wider public.

The SCR provides monthly reporting on major issues including North Korea. It also does forecasts for the next month in the SC. Needless to say, the SCR is an important resource for any researcher interested in Korean peninsula affairs without the time to pay attention to UNSC coverage of Korean questions.