by: Peter Beck, North East Asia Director, International Crisis Group
Happy New Year! I thought this would be a good opportunity to bring you up to date on developments with the International Crisis Group’s Northeast Asia office and the family as well as plans for the new year. The biggest news (or perhaps I should say newsiness) is that the ICG made the short list for the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize! It turns out the Nobel Foundation gives the list of finalists to the Norwegian media so that they can be in place when the announcement is made. It is always difficult to measure the impact of our work, especially when almost all of the conflicts we focus on continue to deteriorate, but it was still a real shot in the arm. Since the announcement was made, in Asia alone we have added Sri Lanka and Bangladesh to our coverage, so who knows?
Here in Seoul, we published four reports during the year, which was the same
as 2005, but with a bit more struggle given that we lost our two full-time
analysts due to budget cuts. Fortunately, we were able to put together the best
research team that pizza can buy. Our hastily written:
Thanks to North Korea’s provocative actions, ICG’s Northeast Asia office led
the organization in media mentions for the second straight year with over 2,000
in 2006. In the 36 hours after the North’s nuclear test, we somehow managed to
do 60 interviews, with one Associated Press quote leading to over 300 reprints
(another record). Despite an often crazy travel schedule, we also led ICG in
presentations with 61, including the World Economic Forum’s first conference in
Tokyo, where Prime Minister Koizumi asked if I played basketball! Unfortunately,
I lacked the courage to urge him not to visit the Yasukuni Shrine. So much for
advocacy… Meanwhile, I continued to teach at Ewha Woman’s University and serve
on the Policy Advisory Committee to the Ministry of Unification. Offering advice
to a government hell-bent on engagement often feels like an exercise in futility!
I also joined advisory boards for the Korea Foundation and the Seoul City
Government. I am attaching two short pieces I just contributed for the
The ICG Seoul office has even bigger and better plans for 2007. For starters, we will try to do a better job of living up to our name as the Northeast Asia office. From January we will have a full-time China analyst who will be focusing on the extent to which China’s energy policy is fueling international conflict. A Japanese consultant will examine the prospects for revising Japan’s peace constitution and the impact it would have on the region. Meanwhile, we have already started the second half of our work on North Korean defectors. This time we are focusing on the difficulties of resettlement in the South. We will also conclude our bilateral series by looking at Russia and North Korea relations. We will then turn to a report on collapse scenarios for North Korea. The utter dearth of statesmen in the region gives us plenty of material to work with!
Switching from the office “we” to the family “we,” we continue to live in a small ugly apartment in Seoul. What helps ease our conscience about subjecting Julia to the congestion and pollution of Seoul is that we live right in front of a stream that connects to the massive Olympic Park. I try to take Julia on most mornings to the stream, and on weekends alternate between the park and hopping on the subway to visit the Children’s Grand Park, where Julia is on a first-name basis with most of the animals. You can see from the attached picture that she was fortunate to only receive my height genes. Julia is almost five and continues to thrive at her preschool, where she is the only foreigner. She already corrects my Korean and Haeran’s English. She can’t quite decide if she wants to be a ballerina or an artist. I am attaching the picture she drew which appeared on the front of a section of her Grandma’s newspaper. Haeran is teaching English to children and cooking to housewives. Our apartment turned into a Christmas cookie factory for about two weeks. We feel fortunate to have two of her siblings within walking distance. I took the girls with me on my two best boondoggles of the year, Geneva (with a stop in Germany to visit a sister—pretty ironic that my only German relatives are on Haeran’s side) and a mountain resort in Japan, where the girls could gorge on their favorite food—sashimi (also Julia’s first Japanese word). Sorry for making this letter so long!
All the Best in 2007!!!