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Dagyum Ji is a senior NK News correspondent based in Seoul. She previously worked for Reuters TV.
South Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) is hoping to influence U.S. attitudes towards North Korea and improve the “timeliness” of international and domestic policymaking through a new outsourced research project, a document seen by NK News this week showed.
In a proposal released earlier this month, the foreign ministry said it planned to commission “policy research” on the “current state of North Korea’s steps towards reform and opening.”
Through the project, the MOFA aims to publish English-language findings on the “real state of North Korean economy” and “actively utilize” it in public diplomacy targeting the U.S. government and general public.
Another goal is to “contribute to improving the timeliness of North Korea policy of the international community, including the U.S.,” it adds.
The research findings will also be used as a reference to develop the South Korean government’s foreign policy towards the U.S, the ROK MOFA’s North American Affairs Bureau said in the proposal, which is not publicly available to media.
A need for “objective” information on these issues has arisen because they are “closely connected to North Korea’s will to achieve denuclearization in the short run,” the MOFA said in its explanation of the project.
In the document — a bid seeking private sector assistance with the work — the foreign ministry stressed the need to “adjust the U.S. government and public perception of North Korea by enhancing the understanding of its economic realities.”
Seoul also suggested other ways to use the research, including the “production of English-language materials and distribute them to U.S. opinion leaders.”
When the South Korean foreign ministry also plans to use the research results as reference materials in talks with opinion-leaders in Washington, it added, saying the work will help the ROK government enhance its public diplomacy.
Seoul also plans to host a number of events regarding its policy toward the U.S., including in the form of joint seminars, it added.
After the foreign ministry signs the contract in May, the research project is set to take four months to complete.
The MOFA’s plans appear to be in line with U.S. President Donald Trump’s claims that the DPRK has “great economic potential” due to its location in Asia.
They also come just a month after Minister of Foreign Affairs Kang Kyung-hwa told a meeting of the National Assembly’s special committee on inter-Korean economic cooperation that South Korea’s public diplomacy towards the U.S. remains “very inadequate.”
That meeting saw minister Kang admit to a “severe lack of resources,” while stressing that the MOFA had taken steps to improve the situation by hiring a diplomatic minister and a team in charge of public diplomacy at the ROK embassy in the U.S. last year.
Speaking at the meeting, the South Korean foreign minister said her ministry needed “a lot of help” from lawmakers.
South Korean Chairperson of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea (MPK) Lee Hae-chan also previously argued that Seoul’s public diplomacy was insufficient following a trip to the U.S. by a parliamentary delegation between February 10 and 17.
That trip saw National Assembly Speaker Moon Hee-sang and other high-profile lawmakers meet with U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Armed Services Chairman James Inhofe, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, and chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Eliot Engel, among others.
The lawmakers also held talks with Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan and U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun.
Chairperson Lee following that trip in February said it had revealed a “serious lack of information sharing” on issues related to recent trends in the North.
“I get the sense… that they judge the current situation based on their experience of visiting North Korea in the late 90s,” Lee said. “I believe public diplomacy is insufficient, and our party needs to hold a lot of talks with the U.S. important figures.”
As part of what appears to be broader efforts to enhance ROK-U.S. coordination, Speaker Moon this month told a meeting of the U.S. Congressional Study Group on Korea (CSGK) that the National Assembly had recently set up its own group dedicated to studying the U.S.
Moon said the group will officially launch and will visit the U.S. in May, according to the written statement provided by the National Assembly, with the Speaker proposing that the National Assembly and the U.S. Congress “meet as often as possible to improve mutual understanding.”
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured Image: White House