Research institute 38 North announced that it would continue delivering analysis on North Korea despite the imminent closure of its parent institution following the South Korean government’s decision to terminate its funding. In a statement posted Wednesday on its website, 38 North founder Joel Wit said the research institute would continue its operations even after the planned closure of the US-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.
“Without commenting on the current controversy, I would like to assure our readers that 38 North will continue its operations despite the demise of USKI. More news on that front will be coming soon,” Wit said. USKI Director Jae Ku told Yonhap News Agency that the institute would be shut down on May 11 after being informed that the South Korean government-funded Korea Institute for International Economic Policy planned to cut off $1.8 million of annual funding.
While the 38 North founder Wit did not specify how the institute would be managed, sources speculate that 38 North will be run as an independent entity funded by various foundations in the US. Wit, a former US diplomat who has participated in “Track 2” dialogues with North Korean officials attending international meetings, expressed regret over the South Korean government’s decision to stop funding the USKI.
“This is a very unfortunate development given the institute’s history,” Wit said. The USKI has been managed by former US government officials who exercise significant influence in the shaping of US policy toward North Korea, The institute was founded in 2006 by Don Oberdorfer, a well-known Washington Post correspondent and longtime Korea watcher, and its chairmen have included Ambassadors Stephen Bosworth and Robert L. Gallucci.
The USKI controversy has roiled South Korea and Washington-based think tanks at a time when the liberal Moon Jae-in administration is pursuing a diplomatic breakthrough with North Korea through an inter-Korean summit and a US-North Korea summit. USKI Chairman Gallucci, who served as a chief US negotiator during the North Korean nuclear crisis of 1994, told the Associated Press that it was a setback for research on North Korea and that the Moon administration has exerted “utterly inappropriate meddling” over academic affairs.
South Korea’s opposition parties criticized the Moon administration for trying to censor the North Korean policy debate in the US. This was reflected in attempts to replace USKI Director Ku, who has advocated a hard-line policy against North Korea during previous conservative administration, they said.
In a press release announcing the funding cut, KIEP said the decision was agreed upon by lawmakers across the aisle, who had echoed criticisms about the institute’s poor audit reports, lack of transparency in selecting visiting scholars and the “excessively long” tenure of Ku.
Last week, Cheong Wa Dae said it has never demanded the ouster of Ku, who was appointed director in 2007. The decision was made by the National Research Council for Economics, Humanities and Social Sciences under the Prime Minister’s office, which supervises KIEP, it added.