Cho Yeon Kim: International Relations in East Asia / Political Philosophy

choyeonkim2Cho Yeon Kim
International Relations in East Asia / Political Philosophy
Home College: Baruch
Faculty Mentors: Profs. Sandeep Sreekumar, Philosophy and Myung-Koo Kang, Political Science, Baruch
Macaulay Honors College
Thomas W. Smith Academic Fellowship
Jack Nash Scholarship
Horace W. Goldsmith Scholarship
Phi Eta Sigma Honor Society
Dean’s List

In her own words…

Since the disintegration of the Soviet Union, socialist countries in Eastern Europe and Asia have engaged in efforts to introduce market-oriented reforms to their highly centralized economies. China, for example, has achieved a remarkably successful transition, by implementing experimental capitalistic elements into their planned economy. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), however, represents a major exception to this trend. The Kim Jong Il regime (1994-2012) and the succeeding regime of Kim Jung Un have mostly insisted on following what they term “socialism of our own style” based on Juche philosophy, and consisting of economic autarky and political independence from all western influence.

In 2002, Kim Jong Il did attempt to implement major market-oriented reforms modeled after the Chinese example. This effort failed to transform the country’s outdated economic system, primarily because it remained beholden to a dual-track approach: pursuing a military-first policy and pushing toward nuclear weapons development, while at the same time seeking economic investment from the rest of the world. The current leadership of DPRK is faced with the same unresolved dilemma: remain loyal to the dual-track approach and inflict further damage upon their economy? It is unclear to what extent the DPRK leadership would agree to major economic changes involving a greater degree of openness to the outside. Would Deng Xiaoping’s model of economic reform ever gain real traction in North Korea, serve as an example for its government moving forward? If the DPRK did change its economic policy, how should its neighboring states in the region and the rest of the world react? These are the kinds of questions that brought together my academic interests and personal curiosity as an undergraduate. I aim to address such questions as I work toward my goal of becoming an international policy specialist, focused on East Asian issues.

My passion for International Relations, particularly the relationship between the two Koreas, is a result of both personal circumstance and deep, scholarly interest. As a child in South Korea, I remember being fascinated by news footage of hundreds of trucks, filled with cattle and bags of rice, crossing the closed border to deliver food aid to North Korea. The late 1990s were a brief moment of détente, and a mood of reconciliation swept the Korean peninsula borne by South Korean President Kim Dae Joong’s Sunshine Policy and his amiable political gestures toward the North. Before this, I would have never imagined I would see the South Korean President and the North Korean leader holding hands in the North Korean capital city of Pyeongyang. I was a seven-year-old girl at that time.

The seven-year-old South Korean girl who used to send hand-illustrated cards to anonymous North Korean children as a second grade assignment emigrated to the United States at the age of fifteen. Since I left my home country, I have witnessed escalating tension and distrust in East Asia as the DPRK insists on continuing its nuclear weapons program. When the DPRK played the nuclear card during negotiations in the 90s, it inevitably created serious flare-ups among its neighboring countries – as well as the United States. My urge to study International Relations grew out of my hope to be a part of creating a lasting break in the longstanding tensions between the two states.

Growing up in two distinct cultural environments has allowed me great linguistic flexibility, and also opened my eyes to the importance of transnational studies. Having spent most of my childhood in South Korea, I am able to locate certain nuances that those without my background may not discern.  Had I been solely educated in South Korea, I might have developed certain biases and misconceptions—but by emigrating to the States for my higher education, I have been able to gain a clear, objective understanding of the issues at play on the Korean peninsula. My dual-identity—a “Korean living in America”—allowed me to discover great personal potential as I began to specialize in the North-South Korean conflict.

Having been accepted into CUNY’s prestigious Baccalaureate for Unique and Interdisciplinary Studies, I have been able to design my own undergraduate double-major, “International Relations in East Asia,” which allows me to focus on the intricate power dynamics of the region. In order to enrich my understanding of my focus area, I spent two semesters at Yonsei University, a leading South Korean institution for International Relations, intensively researching the socio-economic and political history of DPRK and seeking to make sense of its fickle diplomatic efforts. By tracing North Korean leadership in the context of sociopolitical history, I was able to get a more nuanced sense of the thinking behind North Korea’s puzzling brinkmanship. Furthermore, I was able to observe the birth of this ‘rogue’ state in the context of broader historical developments in East Asia. I am currently writing an honors thesis examining the obstacles to implementing Chinese-style market reforms in North Korea. This research explores the structural constraints of the country’s dual-track strategy, which leaves North Korea struggling to separate economic expediency and cooperation from its military-first insistence on continuing to develop nuclear weapons.

East Asia has a dynamic political and economic climate. By virtue of having an unpredictable state actor like DPRK in the region, East Asia must develop a sustainable governance system to promote its regional development in a spirit of mutual trust and cooperation. Again, enduring peace in East Asia cannot be acquired without having an effective international policy and governance model agreed to and adopted by its members. After acquiring my master’s degree in public policy and governance, my aim is to join the effort to bring peace and establish stability in East Asia by becoming a liaison between East Asian governments and International Organizations.