Not in our best interests

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Not in our best interests

The U.S-Korea Institute (USKI) at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) in Washington is doomed to shut down next month. The SAIS said that the Moon Jae-in administration on Monday notified USKI Chairman Robert Gallucci of its decision to close it down by stopping funding to the prestigious institute. If that’s true, a respected think tank, which has been devoted to studying Korean Peninsula issues in the heart of the United States, will disappear soon.

The responsibility for the shutdown also falls on USKI. The institute says its expenditures have been strictly audited by SAIS and the university — its financial watchdogs — on a regular basis over the last 12 years. But if it really submitted simply a short report on its financial accounts to the donor nation, that is not normal. As the issue has been repeatedly raised in the regular auditing process at the National Assembly, the problem should have been fixed earlier one way or another.

But the Moon administration went too far if it really tried to replace its conservative director as well as assistant director Jenny Town, head of 38 North, a website devoted to the analysis of North Korea. The administration’s pressure to change key figures involving research on Korean issues on the grounds of their political orientation is not right. As think tanks and universities are places pursuing objective truth, academic freedom must be protected to prevent any temptation from distorting truth for a particular political purpose.

If the institute really shuts down, our government’s effort to stimulate public diplomacy will go down the drain. Korea has very little influence on political and academic circles in the United States. In contrast, Japan has been actively engaged in public diplomacy since 1980. A massive amount of funding for pro-Japanese politicians and scholars in Washington played a big part in its campaign. While Tokyo spends nearly 480 billion won ($451 million) for public diplomacy each year, Seoul spend a ninth of that amount.

The liberal Roh Moo-hyun administration established USKI in 2006. It tried to attract Washington’s interest in the peninsula by accelerating Korean studies through the institute. It is preposterous for the Moon administration to abandon such a precious asset for public diplomacy particularly ahead of a historic summit between the United States and North Korea and amid deepening trade disputes with Washington. It must not burn the house to roast the pig.

JoongAng Ilbo, April 11, Page 30
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