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Kim Namseok, Munhwa Ilbo Correspondent
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This article originally appeared in the Korean daily newspaper Munhwa Ilbo on January 2, 2023. It was translated from Korean by Raymond Ha.

In an exclusive interview for the Munhwa Ilbo, Stanford University professors Gi-Wook Shin and Francis Fukuyama had a conversation on a wide range of topics including the war in Ukraine, U.S.-China competition, and North Korea policy.

The world faces a crisis of political leadership as each country pursues its own interests. Fukuyama stressed the importance of robust international institutions, instead of relying solely on great leaders. He pointed to NATO and the U.S.-Korea alliance as examples of institutions that uphold the liberal international order. In terms of the U.S.-China competition, he said without hesitation that “a democracy like Korea…has to make the decision that it is going to be on the side of democracy.” Fukuyama also noted that in the event of an armed confrontation over Taiwan, Korea would almost certainly be pulled in, given the significant U.S. military presence there. He was skeptical about prospects for progress over North Korea, pointing to the long history of failed negotiations and the lack of viable alternatives. “Not every problem has a solution,” he said.

Gi-Wook Shin, who led the interview, observed that the global decline of democracy appears to have hit a turning point, “although it’s too early to say if there will be a rapid recovery…or a more gradual shift.” As for the state of democracy in the United States, he said, “We will have to wait and see what happens in the 2024 presidential election.” Even though Trump’s political influence may be weaker, he observed, “pro-Trump forces are still part of the system.” In terms of Korea’s foreign policy, Shin emphasized that Seoul “should take [the Taiwan] problem much more seriously.” A crisis in the Taiwan Strait “could become the biggest challenge for the Yoon administration’s foreign policy, not North Korea,” and domestic polarization over China policy is one issue that could threaten to “become extremely controversial.”

The interview was held in-person for one hour at Stanford on December 8, 2022, with a follow-up interview held over the phone on December 27.  


[Gi-Wook Shin] Let’s start by looking back on 2022. How would you summarize this year?

[Francis Fukuyama] I think 2022 was a very good year, where we may have bottomed out in this global move away from democracy and toward authoritarian government. The year really started out in February with the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which looked very, very threatening. China was on a roll. It looked like they were beating everybody in terms of COVID policy. Then, by the end of the year, the Russians got completely bogged down. China experienced mass protests, and there were protests also in Iran. In America’s elections on November 8, all the pro-Trump forces failed to make gains and, in fact, lost almost everywhere. I think that maybe we will look back on 2022 as the year when this democratic recession that has been going on for over 15 years finally bottomed out.

[GWS] I agree, although it’s too early to say if there will be a rapid recovery toward democracy or a more gradual shift. In the United States, we will have to wait and see what happens in the 2024 presidential election. Former President Trump may be weaker politically, but pro-Trump forces are still part of the system. As for the Ukraine war, many people thought Russia would win quite easily, but now it looks like they are struggling. It’s a big question, of course, but how do you think the war will be remembered in history?

[FF] I think that it is going to be remembered as one of the biggest strategic mistakes made by a great-power leader in a very long time. I think that the mistake is directly due to the nature of the political system. You remember that Vladimir Putin was sitting at the end of this 25-foot table with his defense minister because he was so afraid of COVID. He was extremely isolated during the whole pandemic, and he had already isolated himself in a political system where he doesn’t face checks and balances. That kind of decision-making system makes you prone to make even bigger mistakes, because you don’t have other people to test your ideas against. He was completely uninformed about the degree to which Ukraine had developed a separate national identity and that the Ukrainian people were willing to fight for it. He didn’t have any idea how incompetent his own army was. If he had been in a more democratic country that required him to share power with other people, I don’t think he could have made that kind of mistake.

 

The most important thing is the breakdown of the Chinese economic model. For the past decade, the Chinese model has been to pump a huge amount of money into the real estate sector. That model is collapsing. The other big problem is that they don’t have economic growth anymore.
Francis Fukuyama

[GWS] Putin is struggling, as you said. There are a lot of problems in China, but Xi Jinping secured a third term. Authoritarian leaders elsewhere still hold power. By contrast, I don’t think President Biden has shown powerful leadership at home or globally. I don’t see any strong political leaders in the U.K., France, or Germany either.

[FF] I think that although Xi Jinping may succeed in stabilizing the situation in China with the protests over COVID in the short run, he is in a lot of trouble. He was creating all this social instability with the zero-COVID policy. Now that they’ve started to relax it, I think the number of cases and deaths is going to go up very dramatically, but I don’t think they’ve got much of a choice. I think this has probably damaged the people’s sense of Xi’s authority and legitimacy, and I’m not sure he can recover from that.

The most important thing is the breakdown of the Chinese economic model. For the past decade, the Chinese model has been to pump a huge amount of money into the real estate sector. That model is collapsing. The other big problem is that they don’t have economic growth anymore. Some economists think that they’re actually in a recession, with negative growth. This is like what Japan went through in the 1990s. So much of the Chinese government’s legitimacy has been based on having extremely high growth rates, and that period is over. I don’t see how they get it back, and they certainly won’t by inserting the state into every economic decision and controlling their high-tech sector. Their population is shrinking now. I’m not sure that Xi Jinping, in the longer run, is actually going to look like a very effective leader.

[GWS] But in the short term, say the next three to five years, won’t authoritarian leaders be powerful in comparison? Just as “America First” shows, some say there is a crisis of political leadership among Western democracies, including the United States, the United Kingdom, France, and Germany.

[FF] I think that apart from President Zelenskyy in Ukraine, we don’t see any really inspiring leaders in Germany or France or the United States. On the other hand, the nice thing about democracy is that it’s an institutional system for managing change. Biden has turned 80, and Trump himself is in his upper 70s. The leadership in Congress and the Democratic Party are all elderly, but they’re all about to change. In the next election cycle, there is going to be a whole new generation of people that are up-and-coming. I don’t think you need a charismatic leader with great vision, necessarily, to run any of the countries you mentioned.

[GWS] Another question is if the United States can provide global leadership. When Trump was defeated, there was a strong expectation for the Biden administration to restore global order and to do much better than its predecessor. I’m not sure whether that’s happening.

[FF] Again, I think that’s why you want to have international institutions rather than being dependent simply on leaders. This gives an institutional basis for continuity in policy. There are all of these alliance structures, like NATO. People thought that NATO was obsolete and was going to go away. It has actually proved to be very durable. The United States has security ties with Korea and Japan that also are quite old, but they’re still durable. It’s interesting that the authoritarian countries have not been able to create anything comparable to that set of alliances. There is the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), but all the Central Asian states don’t want to be part of this China-Russia dominated organization. We can’t just depend on great leadership.

Korea should proactively participate in upholding and creating an international order that facilitates a resurgence of democracy. Korea has not really played this role before, but with the 10th largest economy in the world, it is now in a position to play a positive role.
Gi-Wook Shin

[GWS] To add on to that, I think Korea should proactively participate in upholding and creating an international order that facilitates a resurgence of democracy. Korea has not really played this role before, but with the 10th largest economy in the world, it is now in a position to play a positive role.

[FF] There is a set of values that underpin America’s alliances, both in Asia and Europe. Throughout the whole Cold War, the Soviet Union never actually invaded a Western democracy, but that’s what Russia did. NATO has suddenly become very relevant once more. I think that both in Korea and Japan, there is also recognition of a comparable challenge from an authoritarian China. Unless all democracies work together and show solidarity with one another, they could be picked off by these two authoritarian powers.

[GWS] There is a lot of debate about whether China is going to invade Taiwan or not. I have a two-part question. First, could the situation in Ukraine reduce the possibility of China invading Taiwan? Second, if China still invades nevertheless, what should Korea do? This is a difficult question for Korea. It cannot say no to the United States as a military ally, but at the same time, it cannot antagonize China. I think this is the most difficult question for Korea at the moment.

[FF] This is a difficult question for the United States because it’s not clear that Congress or the American people actually want to go to war with China in order to save Taiwan. I think if you ask them a polling question stated like that, probably a majority would say, “No, we’re not going to send our troops to die.” But I think it’s likely that the United States will get dragged into such a conflict one way or the other. Among other things, the Chinese would probably have to preempt some of the American forces that are in the theater. American military personnel will get killed as the Chinese attack unfolds, and I think there will be a lot of political pressure to help Taiwan.

[GWS] How much can the United States be involved? Some in Korea are skeptical that Washington will step in.

[FF] This is really the problem. During the Cold War, we had a good idea of what a war would like look like if it actually happened. The military planning was very concretely designed against certain types of escalation. With China, we don’t have a clear set of expectations for what escalation would look like. It could just start with a Chinese invasion. It could start with a blockade. It could start with something in the South China Sea. It could actually start on the Korean Peninsula, with North Korea doing something. If it happens, it’s going to be much more devastating than the war in Ukraine. So much of global production comes out of Asia, and there’s a strong incentive not to let things get out of hand. Whether we have the wisdom to do that is not clear. I also think that people’s expectations and opinions will change once the conflict begins. The moment people see cities being bombed, they will change their minds.

Francis Fukuyama conversing in Gi-Wook Shin's office at Stanford University.
Francis Fukuyama. Kim Namseok/Munhwa Ilbo

[GWS] I also think that a conflict over Taiwan would affect the American people more directly than what is happening in Ukraine. What’s your view on how seriously Korea should be taking this possibility?

[FF] It is likely enough that it is absolutely important for everyone to take it seriously and plan against it. What you want to do is deter China from taking any military action against Taiwan. They’re not going to be deterred unless they see that there’s a response on the other side that is going to raise the cost for them. That’s not going to happen unless people take the scenarios seriously and start thinking about concrete ways that they could help Taiwan or stymie any kind of Chinese attack. I think it is very important for Korea to think this through and think about ways they could support Taiwan and be part of a larger alliance that can push back against China.

[GWS] I keep telling my friends and colleagues in Korea that they should take this problem much more seriously. Taiwan could become the biggest challenge for the Yoon administration’s foreign policy, not North Korea. China policy has become an extremely divisive partisan issue in South Korea, and it could tear the country apart. What advice would you have for President Yoon?

[FF] There’s two things. First is the rhetorical position. Korea should make its position clear in advance that it would oppose Chinese military action and would support the United States, for example. Korea is going to get dragged into this because so much U.S. military equipment is in Korea, and that is going to be moved in closer to the theater. I think making that position clear in advance is important.

The other thing that’s been very clear from the Ukraine war is that democracies are not prepared for an extended conflict. Everybody is running out of ammunition in Europe and the United States is running low on certain types of ammunition. The Ukrainians have used so much of it just in the 10 months they have been fighting. I think that any high-intensity conflict in East Asia is also going to be very costly in terms of supplies. South Korea is in a better position than other countries because it has been preparing for a North Korean attack for decades. Everybody needs to be prepared for an extended conflict. It may not be over in 48 hours.

[GWS] Koreans are quite nervously watching the ongoing escalation of tensions between the United States and China. In the past, the paradigm was “United States for security, China for the economy” (an-mi-gyeong-joong). Now, security and the economy are linked together. The Yoon government is promoting the strengthening of the alliance with the United States, but South Korea faces the fundamental problem of how to position itself as U.S.-China tensions escalate. Do you have any wisdom for Korea?

[FF] I don’t know if it’s wisdom, but I think Korea needs to take a clearer position. Under the previous government, there was a belief that Korea could somehow be halfway between China and the United States. That’s just not a tenable position. The tension between the United States and China has really been driven by China ever since 2013, when Xi Jinping took power. China has become a much more severe dictatorship internally, and it has become much more aggressive externally. You see the influence of the Belt and Road Initiative and the militarization of the South China Sea. In the last 10 or 15 years, China has been picking fights with India, Japan, Korea, and all of Southeast Asia over territorial issues. They built the size of their military much more rapidly than any other great power in that period of time. As a result, the United States and other countries have simply reacted to this. I think that a democracy like Korea cannot pretend that it is somehow in between the United States and China. It has to make the decision that it is going to be on the side of democracy.

[GWS] I agree that an-mi-gyeong-joong is now obsolete, but I think that South Korea must be more sophisticated in its response. As they say, the devil is in the details. On the economy, Seoul can actively work with Washington on areas closely related to security, but it can still partner with Beijing on sectors that are not. There can be a fine-tuned policy.

I now want to ask about North Korea and U.S. policy. I have been saying that the Biden administration policy is one of “strategic neglect,” not the “strategic patience” of the Obama administration. Kim Jong-un keeps testing missiles and provoking, and South Koreans are puzzled by the lack of response from Washington. Why is that? Is it because all the attention is on Ukraine and China?

[FF] Not every problem has a solution, and I don’t think this problem has a solution. You could use diplomacy. You could use military force. You could use deterrence. There are a limited number of possible approaches, and I think none of them are going to work. There has been a long history of negotiation. That has not worked. I think confrontation is not going to work. I think preemption is certainly not going to work. I just don’t think there’s a good solution, so we’ve ended up with trying to ignore the problem by default. Part of the reason North Korea is launching all of these missiles is that they want people to pay attention to them. Ignoring the problem is not much of a solution either, but it’s not as if there is a better solution.

[GWS] I agree with you that for many people in government, North Korea has been a hot potato. You don’t want to touch it because there is no clear solution, and it won’t help your career. But if we just ignore the problem, then five years later it’s going to be worse. What kind of North Korea are we going to face in five or ten years?

[FF] Everybody has been hoping that something would happen internally. It’s fine to think that, but it’s also not taking place. That said, Kim Jong-un is obese and unhealthy. Who knows what might happen?

We've had four elections now where [Trump] was playing a major role in the Republican Party. In three of those elections, he really hurt his own party. He can stir up a third of the electorate that loves him, but it’s never enough to win an election, especially in a swing state.
Francis Fukuyama

[GWS] Let’s now turn to domestic politics here in the United States. I think many Americans were relieved by what happened in the midterm elections last month. Trump’s influence was much more limited than what people thought. But he’s still there, and he’s likely to run again. I think he is still a strong candidate for the Republicans.

[FF] He declared his candidacy, but I think that he is declining very rapidly in influence. We have had four elections now where he was playing a major role in the Republican Party. In three of those elections, he really hurt his own party. He can stir up a third of the electorate that loves him, but it’s never enough to win an election, especially in a swing state. I think he’s gotten crazier in recent months. He is doing so many self-destructive things, having dinner with neo-Nazis and repeating all these conspiracy theories. These are things that no rational candidate would do. The Republicans are going to want somebody that can actually beat the Democrats, and I don’t think it’s going to be him.

[GWS] You don’t expect a rematch between Biden and Trump in 2024?

[FF] This gets into a technical issue, but the Republican primaries are mostly winner-take-all primaries. Any candidate that can get 30% of the vote is likely to be nominated. If you have a Republican field that has several people competing, they may split the alternative vote and Trump may end up winning. I think he still has a good chance of being the Republican nominee. If you’re a Democrat, that’s not the worst thing in the world. It is probably easier to run against Trump than a more normal Republican candidate.

[GWS] Two years is still a long time in politics. You said that Trump is likely to be nominated. Would Biden also run again?

[FF] I think that Biden is going to run again. Part of the problem is in the Democratic Party. It’s not clear who the successor would be. There are a lot of potential new-generation politicians, but I don’t think any of them has enough presence and attention that they can clearly take over the mantle to run as the Democratic candidate. If there is a rematch, I think Biden will win.

[GWS] Now to South Korea. Last June, I did some interviews advocating a parliamentary system, and they received good attention. There is still a lot of hesitancy among Koreans, though. I think there are a few reasons. The first is that we need a strong presidential system to deal with North Korea. There’s no stability if the prime minister keeps changing. Second is that it may drive politicians closer to big business (chaebol) because there’s less direct accountability. What would you suggest for South Korea in terms of institutional reform?

[FF] There are several possibilities even short of a parliamentary system. You can coordinate the presidential and parliamentary terms. It’s still the case that the president has a five-year term, but the legislature is on an even-year term. If you want to have strong government, you need a president that has majority support in the legislature. If they get elected simultaneously on a regular basis, you’re more likely to see strong leadership emerge. In a presidential system, the legislature itself is a check against the president. If you don’t have a strong majority in the legislature, you can’t do anything.

[GWS] That is what is happening right now in Korea.

[FF] In a parliamentary system like the British one, if you have a majority in parliament, you can do what you want. I think the presumption that somehow a presidential system is inevitably stronger than a parliamentary system is not historically correct.

[GWS] Is a parliamentary system maybe one solution to political polarization?

[FF] Sometimes a parliamentary system will have that effect, but the kind of plurality voting system that we have in the United States and in Britain tends to promote polarization. To the extent that you make it possible for third parties to run, that’s probably a better system. If you have more parties and it becomes harder to get a majority in the legislature, that forces coalitions and some degree of power sharing.

Francis Fukuyama 2022

Francis Fukuyama

Olivier Nomellini Senior Fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, Director of the Ford Dorsey Master’s in International Policy, and Professor by Courtesy, Department of Political Science
Full Biography
Gi-Wook Shin

Gi-Wook Shin

Senior Fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, Professor of Sociology, William J. Perry Professor of Contemporary Korea, Director of the Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center, and Director of the Korea Program
Full Biography

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A Conversation with Francis Fukuyama on the Challenges of a Changing Global Order

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In North Korea, which remains one of the worst human rights violators in the world, the past two years have seen the government responding to international challenges and the COVID pandemic with deepened isolation and repression. The Kim Jong Un regime imposed severe new restrictions on movement within the country, limits on distributing food and other products, and heightened digital surveillance. Yet advocacy for North Korean human rights has lost momentum, and the Biden administration is yet to fill the role of a Special Envoy on North Korean Human Rights — a position established in U.S. law and mandated by the North Korean Human Rights Act of 2004.

Against this backdrop, on October 6, 2022, Shorenstein APARC and the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS) gathered experts from academia and the policy world to refocus on what the South Korean and U.S. governments can do to address the ongoing North Korean human rights crisis. The conference, North Korean Human Rights at a New Juncture, also explored the human rights implications of North Korea’s response to the COVID outbreak in the country and China’s complicity in North Korea's human rights abuses.

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The first panel of the conference, moderated by APARC and Korea Program Director Gi-Wook Shin, highlighted the role of Congress and the U.S. Government in North Korean human rights. It featured Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), co-chair of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission and a ranking member of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, and Frank Wolf, a commissioner on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

“We need to remind the Biden administration of the compelling need to integrate human rights into all of its engagement with the North Korean regime,” said Rep. Smith. He also emphasized that “Beijing has continued to play a crucial role in sustaining North Korea’s horrific human rights record.”

The second panel, moderated by Victor Cha, senior vice president for Asia and Korea Chair at CSIS and vice dean and D.S. Song KF Professor of Government at Georgetown University, called attention to the role of special envoys for North Korean human rights in engaging the North Korean regime. It featured Ambassador Shin-wha Lee, South Korea’s ambassador of international cooperation on North Korean human rights, and Ambassador Robert King, a senior adviser with the Korea Chair at CSIS and former U.S. special envoy for North Korean Human Rights.

By appointing a special envoy, you can give a clear message to North Korea that human rights matters to the U.S. foreign policy.
Ambassador Shin-wha Lee
South Korea’s Ambassador of International Cooperation on North Korean Human Rights

Ambassador Lee, named to her post in July 2022, two months after President Yoon Suk-yeol took office, emphasized the importance of rallying international support to press North Korea on rights and urged the United States to appoint a special envoy. By filling the role, she said, the United States will give a clear message to North Korea that human rights matter to U.S. foreign policy and help revitalize the European Union's interest in the issue despite its preoccupation with the war in Ukraine.

Lee also underscored the need to resume discussions on North Korean human rights at the United Nations Security Council, where no such dialogue has taken place since 2017. Unfortunately, she said, given the heightened U.S.-China and U.S.-Russia tensions, the prospects for such a discussion are slim, if not impossible. Still, we must push forward to do that, she added.

Ambassador King noted that in the current environment of extreme partisanship, the North Korean human rights legislation continues to enjoy broad bipartisan Congressional support. It is well past time for President Biden to appoint a special envoy for North Korean human rights with the rank of ambassador, he said.

Dr. King, a former Koret Fellow in Korean Studies at APARC, is the author of the book Patterns of Impunity, which provides an in-depth overview of his time as a special envoy during the Obama administration. Published by APARC in 2021, the book also traces U.S. involvement and interest in North Korean human rights and the role of the United Nations in addressing the human rights crisis in the country.

APARC and its Korea Program are committed to building a solid foundation of education, knowledge, and dialogue about the North Korean human rights problem. Our publications and event programming are some ways we use to shine a light on the crisis. Another recent APARC publication is The North Korea Conundrum: Balancing Human Rights and International Security. This volume, edited by Dr. King and Prof. Shin, focuses on the intertwining relationship between the North Korean denuclearization and human rights agendas. It draws on the work of scholars and practitioners presented and discussed at a conference on North Korean human rights held by APARC’s Korea Program.


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Yeseul Byeon (PhD student, History) and Michelle Ha (PhD student, Modern Thought & Literature) were awarded the 11th annual Korea Program Prize for Writing in Korean Studies for their papers: Byeon on her paper "Shrine in Every Village: Legacies of Religious Reform in Cheju, 1702-3"; and Ha on her paper "Beyond Diaspora: Racial Capitalism and Empire in Kim Young-ha’s Black Flower."

In Byeon's own words on her paper: "My essay delves into the question of regionality in premodern Korea, taking as a case study a religious purge that took place in Cheju in 1702. Instigated by scholar-official (and magistrate of Cheju at the time) Yi Hyŏngsang, the incident has been regarded as something of a puzzle and an anomaly. Yi’s persecution of popular religion goes far beyond the scope of the social reforms we typically associate with the 'confucianization' of Chosŏn. What explains the extraordinary zealotry? Why here, and why at this time?”

“I find the keys to this question in Yi’s accounts of the purge, which I analyze alongside Yi’s writings on the human geography and history of Cheju more broadly," Byeon comments. "I identify the purge within a larger struggle over the territoriality of the Chosǒn state, arguing that Yi’s actions and words connote a paradigmatic shift regarding Cheju’s place in the Korean polity, from foreign 'other' to wayward insider, politically contiguous with the peninsula, yet utterly distinct in terms of its cultural and physical landscape. My question also extends to the evidentiary basis upon which scholars today reason about and narrate the history of the 1702 purge — I argue for a recognition of the archival silences that surround this incident, and a broadened outlook on the sources of truth for Cheju’s past." For more information about the paper, please visit the CEAS website.

In Michelle Ha's own words on her paper "Beyond Diaspora: Racial Capitalism and Empire in Kim Young-ha’s Black Flower": "I am researching early twentieth-century Korean indentured labor migration to Mexican agave plantations within the frames of racial capitalism and empire. These frames are certainly relevant to understanding the story of Koreans in Mexico; however, most South Korean scholarly and artistic works tend to present this migration in bilateral terms, explained by push and pull factors between the Korean and Yucatán Peninsulas. ” “Kim Young-ha’s historical novel Kŏmŭn kkot (Black Flower) uniquely seems to break out of this binational mold, incorporating themes of race and racialization as well as transpacific imperial competition into its narrative," Ha comments.

"In my paper, I argue that Black Flower takes up an imperial turn — against dominant trends in South Korean scholarship that tend to narrowly focus on issues of adaptation and ethnic identity between countries of origin and destination. By analyzing the novel’s understudied narrative features, I demonstrate how Black Flower contextualizes Korean migration to Mexico within European settler colonialism in the Americas and Japan’s transpacific settler empire. In doing so, I suggest that Black Flower provides a model of narrating migration history with a more detailed and nuanced understanding of the political, legal, and economic structures that shape human movement — one that helps place the Korean experience in global and comparative perspective." For more information about the paper, please visit the CEAS website.

Sponsored by the Korea Program and the Center for East Asian Studies, the writing prize recognizes and rewards outstanding examples of writing by Stanford students in an essay, term paper, or thesis produced during the current academic year in any discipline within the area of Korean studies, broadly defined. The competition is open to both undergraduate and graduate students.

Past Recipients:
10th Annual Prize (2021)
9th Annual Prize (2020)
8th Annual Prize (2019)
7th Annual Prize (2018)
6th Annual Prize (2017)
5th Annual Prize (2016)
4th Annual Prize (2015)
3rd Annual Prize (2014)
2nd Annual Prize (2013)
1st Annual Prize (2012)

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Q&As

Postdoc Spotlight: Nhu Truong Compares Government Responsiveness in China and Vietnam

2020-21 Shorenstein Postdoctoral Fellow Nhu Truong, who studies how authoritarian regimes like China and Vietnam respond to social pressure, explains why understanding differences in governance is crucial in an era of fluctuating politics and pandemic.
Postdoc Spotlight: Nhu Truong Compares Government Responsiveness in China and Vietnam

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Kerstin Norris
Q&As

Research Assistant Spotlight: Kerstin Norris Examines Race and Racism in Asia with Gi-Wook Shin

MA in East Asian Studies candidate Kerstin Norris spent the summer assisting APARC and Korea Program Director Gi-Wook Shin with his research on racial tensions in Asia. Looking to pursue a PhD in Sociology, Norris found tremendous value in a collaborative academic environment. We spoke with Norris about her experience as a research assistant and her time working with Dr. Shin.
Research Assistant Spotlight: Kerstin Norris Examines Race and Racism in Asia with Gi-Wook Shin
Stanford campus archway and text about call for applications for APARC 2023-24 fellowships
News

APARC Invites Fall 2023 Asia Studies Fellowship Applications

The Center offers a suite of fellowships for Asia researchers to begin fall quarter 2023. These include postdoctoral fellowships on contemporary Japan and the Asia-Pacific region, inaugural postdoctoral fellowships and visiting scholar positions with the newly launched Stanford Next Asia Policy Lab, and fellowships for experts on Southeast Asia.
APARC Invites Fall 2023 Asia Studies Fellowship Applications
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Two PhD students were awarded the 11th annual Korea Program Prize for Writing in Korean Studies for their papers.

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Experts from academia and the policy world will discuss the ongoing human rights crisis in North Korea, with a focus on the roles of the South Korean and United States governments in addressing this issue. The conference will also explore the human rights implications of North Korea’s response to the massive coronavirus outbreak in the country as well as China’s complicity in North Korea’s human rights abuses. Against this backdrop, the event will emphasize the role that the South Korean and United States special envoys for North Korean human rights can play in engaging the North Korean regime on human rights issues. This is especially important given that the Biden administration still has yet to fill the position of a Special Envoy on North Korean Human Rights—a position mandated by the North Korean Human Rights Act of 2004.

Agenda

10:30 – 10:40 AM PT | Welcoming Remarks
Victor Cha, Senior Vice President for Asia and Korea Chair, CSIS; Vice Dean and D.S. Song KF Professor of Government, Georgetown University
Gi-Wook Shin, Director of the Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center and William J. Perry Professor of Contemporary Korea, Stanford University

10:40 – 11:50 AM PT | SESSION I : The Role of Congress and U.S. Government in North Korean Human Rights
Panelists:
Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), Co-Chair, Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission; Ranking Member, Congressional-Executive Commission on China
Frank Wolf, Commissioner on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom

Moderator:
Gi-Wook Shin, Director of the Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center and William J. Perry Professor of Contemporary Korea, Stanford University

11:50 AM – 12:00 PM PT | Break

12:00 – 1:30 PM PT | SESSION II : The Role of Special Envoys in the North Korean Human Rights Issue
Panelists:
Ambassador Shin-wha Lee, Ambassador of International Cooperation on North Korean Human Rights, Republic of Korea
Ambassador Robert King, Senior Adviser (non-resident), Korea Chair, CSIS; Former U.S. Special Envoy for North Korean Human Rights

Moderator:
Victor Cha, Senior Vice President for Asia and Korea Chair, CSIS; Vice Dean and D.S. Song KF Professor of Government, Georgetown University

This signature event will be co-hosted with the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS)

Online-only

Seminars
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Portraits of Myung Hwan Yu and Gi-Wook Shin with text about Oct 18 webinar on the implications of US-China competition for South Korea

This event is part of APARC’s 2022 Fall webinar seriesAsian Perspectives on the US-China Competition.

With rising Sino-U.S. tensions, South Korea has increasingly been in a difficult position to choose policy decisions that may tilt it towards one hegemon or the other. The new Yoon Administration signaled its strengthened alliance with the U.S. by attending the NATO summit and joining the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF), but there are concerns that such actions run the risks of potential economic backlash from China. With increasing tensions between the U.S. and China, what diplomatic and economic options are left for South Korea? How does the domestic political environment such as the rise of anti-China sentiments and the return of pro-alliance conservatives back to power influence South Korea’s outlook on international affairs? Former South Korean Foreign Minister Yu Myung Hwan, in conversation with Professor Gi-Wook Shin, will discuss the South Korean perspective on the rising U.S.-China rivalry.

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Myung Hwan Yu, former foreign minister of South Korea
 Myung Hwan Yu, former Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade of South Korea, also served as Ambassador to Israel, Japan and Philippines, and as Minister of the Permanent Mission to UN. His experience extends across a broad range of issues in international relations including trade, security and nuclear negotiations with North Korea. After his retirement from the foreign ministry, Ambassador Yu was board chairman of the Sejong University in Seoul, visiting scholar in the Korea Program at APARC; and he is currently a senior advisor at Kim & Chang Law Office.

Gi-Wook Shin

Via Zoom: Register at https://bit.ly/3LjfeMW

Myung Hwan Yu <i>former Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade of South Korea</i>
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Applications opened today for the China Scholars Program (CSP), Sejong Korea Scholars Program (SKSP), and Reischauer Scholars Program (RSP) on Japan—three intensive online courses offered to high school students across the United States by SPICE, Stanford University. All three applications can now be viewed at https://spicestanford.smapply.io/. Interested students must submit their completed application (including an essay and letter of recommendation) by the October 31, 2022 deadline.

All three online courses are currently accepting applications for the Spring 2023 term, which will begin in February and run through June. Designed as college-level introductions to East Asia, these academically rigorous courses offer high school students the unique opportunity to engage in a guided study of China, Korea, or Japan directly with leading scholars, former diplomats, and other experts from Stanford and beyond.

Rising high school sophomores, juniors, and seniors in the United States are eligible to apply to any of the three online courses. Students who are interested in more than one program can apply to two or three and rank their preferences on their applications; those who are accepted into multiple programs will be invited to enroll in their highest-preference course. High school students with a strong interest in East Asia and/or international relations are especially encouraged to apply.

“Some students who enroll in our online courses already have a solid foundation in East Asia, but many do not,” says Dr. Tanya Lee, instructor of the China Scholars Program. “What’s important is that they come with a curious mind and a willingness to work hard. We’re fortunate to be able to connect high school students with all kinds of scholars with expertise in China, Korea, and Japan, and we want our students to make the most of this opportunity.”

For more information on a specific online course, please refer to its individual webpage at chinascholars.org, sejongscholars.org, or reischauerscholars.org. The CSP, SKSP, and RSP are part of SPICE’s online student programs.


To be notified when the next application period opens, join our email list and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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Evan Wright (front row, third from the right), Adriana Reinecke, RSP 2009 (first row, third from the left), and Monica, RSP 2013 (second row, third from the right) with the Reischauer Center staff in Mt. Vernon
Blogs

The Reischauer Legacy: How the RSP Inspired Me to Dedicate My Life to U.S.–Japan Relations

The following reflection is a guest post written by Evan Wright, an alumnus of the Reischauer Scholars Program.
The Reischauer Legacy: How the RSP Inspired Me to Dedicate My Life to U.S.–Japan Relations
Michelle Murcia at Gyeongbokgung Palace, South Korea
Blogs

Academic Exploration: My Studies in the Sejong Korea Scholars Program and Korean Peninsula

The following reflection is a guest post written by Michelle Murcia, an alumna of the 2021 Sejong Korea Scholars Program.
Academic Exploration: My Studies in the Sejong Korea Scholars Program and Korean Peninsula
Santiago Calderon at Harvard University for debate tournament
Blogs

How SPICE’s China Scholars Program Accelerated My Love for International Relations

The following reflection is a guest post written by Santiago Calderon, an alumnus of the China Scholars Program, which is currently accepting applications for the Fall 2021 course.
How SPICE’s China Scholars Program Accelerated My Love for International Relations
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Subtitle: Students with a strong interest in East Asia or international relations are encouraged to apply. Applications are due October 31.

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NKDB Korean translated version of North Korean Conundrum

 

The North Korean Conundrum: Balancing Human Rights and Nuclear Security 
북한의 난제: 인권과 핵안보의 균형
한국어 번역판 발간 행사 북토크

In association with the Database Center for North Korean Human Rights (NKDB), a book talk on the Korean translated version of The North Korean Conundrum: Balancing Human Rights and Nuclear Security is held in Seoul, Korea. 

For more information about the book, please visit the publication webpage.

<Consecutive Korean-English interpretation is provided at the book talk event>

Presenters:

Gi-Wook Shin, Director of Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center, Stanford University

Robert R. King, former Special Envoy for North Korean Human Rights Issues

Joon Oh, former South Korean Ambassador to the UN

Minjung Kim, Associate Executive Director, Save North Korea

Discussants:

Yeosang Yoon, Chief Director, Database Center for North Korean Human Rights

Haley Gordon, Research Associate, Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center, Stanford University

Sookyoung Kim, Assistant Professor, Hanshin University

In-Person event in Korea
June 8, 2PM-5PM, Korea Time
Schubert Hall, Hotel President, Seoul

Seminars
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3D mockup cover of APARC's volume 'South Korea's Democracy in Crisis'

South Korea's Democracy in Crisis: The Threats of Illiberalism, Populism, and Polarization 
위기의 한국 민주주의: 비자유주의, 포퓰리즘, 양극화의 위협

In this book launch event held in Korea, the participants will examine and discuss the threats to democracy in Korea. For more information about the book, please visit the publication webpage.

<The book launch event will be in Korean>

14:00-14:05 Introduction by Ho-Ki Kim, Professor of Sociology, Yonsei University

Moderated by Dukjin Chang, Professor of Sociology, Seoul National University

14:05-15:20 Presentations

Democracy in Crisis: Populism in Post-Truth Era
Gi-Wook Shin, Director of Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center, Stanford University
Ho-Ki Kim, Professor of Sociology, Yonsei University

Two divergences in South Korea’s Economy and Disparities in Democracy
Jun-Ho Jeong, Professor of Economics, Kangwon University
Il-Young Lee, Professor of Economics, Hanshin University

Judicialization of Politics and Politicization of  the Judiciary in Korea : Challenges in Maintaining the Balance of Power
Seongwook Heo, Professor of Law, Seoul National University

15:20-15:40 Break

15:40-16:55 Panel Discussion

Won-Taek Kang, Professor of Political Science, Seoul National University
Seeun Jeong, Professor of Economics, Chungnam National University
Chulwoo Lee, Professor of Law, Yonsei University

16:55-17:00 Closing Remarks by Gi-Wook Shin, Director of Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center, Stanford University

In-Person event in Korea
June 14, 2PM-5PM, Korea Time
Press Center, Seoul

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Noa Ronkin
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South Korea’s cultural wave has swept across the world. Known as Hallyu, the Korean Wave spans music, film, TV, fashion, and food, expressing soft power that engages global audiences and transforms the ways in which they view and consume pop culture. North Korea, by contrast, is a systemic abuser of human rights and remains fixed on the pursuit of military might that poses regional and international threats. These two divergent aspects of Korea that intrigue scholars and the public alike were the focus of a conference that marked the 20th anniversary of the Korea Program at Stanford’s Walter H. Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center (APARC).

The two-day event, held on May 19 and May 20, convened leaders from academia, government, and the entertainment industry to explore how to translate the wide fascination with South Korea’s pop culture wave and North Korea’s geopolitics into an increased academic interest in Korea and to envision new horizons for the field of Korean studies. The conference featured keynote addresses by Ban Ki-moon, former United Nations secretary-general, and Soo-Man Lee, founder and chief producer of SM Entertainment, and a presentation by SUHO, leader of K-pop group EXO.

They joined long-time Korea Program supporters and members of the general public and Stanford community, who came together to celebrate the accomplishments of the Korea Program in its first two decades and consider its future. The event drew robust audiences both in person and online, including a large number of enthusiastic Stanford students and tens of thousands of viewers who watched the event livestream

To understand contemporary Korea and further Korean studies, it is critical to couple the traditional focus on the Peninsula’s security dilemma with a broader examination of Korean society and culture.
Gi-Wook Shin

Expanding the Field of Korean Studies

As he welcomed conference attendees, Stanford sociologist Gi-Wook Shin, the William J. Perry Professor of Contemporary Korea and founding director of the Korea Program, explained that the goal in gathering participants and presenters who represent deep and varied interests in Korea is to highlight the importance of Korean studies programs and build bridges between the United States and Korea, creating a lasting impact well beyond campus.

Shin, who also serves as APARC director, reflected on the efforts made to build a thriving Stanford research hub on contemporary Korea. These include establishing a Korean collection at the East Asia Library, recruiting faculty with expertise in both the social sciences and the humanities, academic publishing, offering training and fellowship opportunities, and events programming.

The conference’s dual focus on North Korea’s geopolitics and South Korea’s Hallyu reflects Shin’s commitment to expanding the range of inquiry about Korea. “To understand contemporary Korea and further Korean studies, it is critical to couple the traditional focus on the Peninsula’s security dilemma with a broader examination of Korean society and culture,” he said.

Professor of International Studies Michael McFaul, director of the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, the parent organization of APARC and the Korea Program, and Professor of Jewish Studies Gabriella Safran, the senior associate dean for humanities and arts, contributed additional welcome remarks, symbolizing the Korea Program’s bridging of both the social science and humanities fields. Safran observed that Korean studies instruction at Stanford has been designed to engage the university community broadly and highlighted the evolution of Stanford students’ understanding of popular culture, thanks in part to the rising popularity of the Korean Wave.

North Korea’s Geopolitics and Society

The morning session of the conference opened with a panel on North Korea. Attendees heard from Siegfried Hecker, professor emeritus in management science and engineering, about the prospects for a renewed diplomacy policy with North Korea; from Kim Sook, former ROK ambassador to the United Nations, about the status of inter-Korean relations and North Korea’s efforts to stave off a COVID-19 crisis; and from Joohee Cho, Seoul bureau chief at ABC News, about the challenges of reporting from and on North Korea and the need to better understand North Korean society beyond the trope of the diplomacy of denuclearization.

Reflecting Back, Looking Ahead

Ambassador Kim, who is also a former fellow with the Korea Program, is one of many Program alumni from the academic, policy, and industry sectors. Speakers on the following panel represented the scope of expertise of the Program’s alumni community and the wide-ranging training and fellowship opportunities the Program facilitates.

The panel brought together Paul Chang, associate professor of sociology at Harvard University, Joon-woo Park, former ROK ambassador to the EU and Singapore, Jong Chun Woo, former president of Stanford APARC-Seoul Forum, and Megan Faircloth, a Stanford Senior in the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures, to consider the Korea Program’s past, present, and vision for the future.

Hard, Soft, and Smart Power

Delivering the keynote address on the first day of the conference, former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon focused on the paradox of the two Koreas. On the one hand, the Republic of Korea has followed a remarkable national development trajectory to become a powerhouse of cultural and artistic creativity – “a global soft power pace-setter,” said Mr. Ban. On the other hand, North Korea, with its stunted development, is seen as a global pariah, and its fixation on hard power suffocates the creativity, innovation, and culture of its own people through systemic repression, state control, and censorship.

But hard power and soft power are not the only two paths, Mr. Ban stated. He went on to explain that a truly advanced country should embrace a forward-thinking national identity of smart power, combining and ultimately transcending hard power- and soft power-related attributes and characteristics. “In an uncertain future, I am certain that Korea’s ascension into a smart power can advance a common destiny for all, one rooted in peace, sustainability, and prosperity,” said Mr. Ban. The best way to achieve this vision, he concluded, is to educate new generations to embody the principles of global citizenship and help them live in harmony and peace with other human beings, irrespective of their nationality.

The soft and hard power strategies of the two Koreas are also the focus of two new documentaries commissioned by the Korea Program. Focused on K-pop and the North Korean human rights crisis, the films are intended to help scholars in teaching students about these two topics. The conference included the unveiling of the documentaries’ trailers and a discussion with film director Hark Joon Lee. The complete documentaries will be released later this year.

Hallyu Has No Borders

There is no doubt that the speaker who most charmed conference attendees and the multitudes of global viewers who watched the event livestream was SUHO, leader of K-pop group EXO. “Today, I am here as the guardian of EXO and K-pop,” SUHO said at the start of his speech, referring to the meaning of his stage name.

He went on to talk about his decade-long experience as a K-pop artist and the hard work and level of detail that go into the complex choreography of the K-pop dances, emphasizing the special, social media-driven emotional bond K-pop artists share with their global fanbase and noting how many fans take a deeper interest in Korean culture because they follow EXO.

Hallyu has no borders and no longer stops at one specific art form, concluded SUHO. “We are witnessing its expansion into our society from every angle: music, dramas, movies, food, education, and more. K-culture is more than a passing trend. It’s a global phenomenon that will continue to grow and evolve,” he said.

Joining SUHO for a discussion of the Korean Wave were Stanford’s Marci Kwon, assistant professor of art and art history, and Angela Killoren, CEO of CJ ENM America, Inc., who oversees U.S. operations for the South Korean entertainment conglomerate that is known for its multiple Academy Award-winning movie “Parasite” and popular K-dramas such as “Crash Landing on You.”

Killoren described the evolution of the global adoption of K-dramas, largely made possible by their distribution through Netflix, and offered insights into the drivers and shapers of the rise of Korean entertainment. According to Killoren, unlike the predominantly male gaze-driven entertainment forms in other cultures, Korean entertainment content caters to the female gaze, as befitting the consumer side of the Korean economy that has been driven by the purchasing power of women

From Immediate Interest to Long-Term Commitment

The second day of the conference convened leading academics to examine how to translate the wide interest in North Korea and K-pop into Korean studies. Panelists included Michelle Cho, assistant professor of East Asian studies at the University of Toronto, David Kang, professor of international relations and business at USC, and Stanford’s own Yumi Moon, associate professor of history, and Dafna Zur, associate professor of East Asian languages and cultures and director of the Center for East Asian Studies.

The panelists agreed on the importance of funding and supporting the study of Korean language in higher education, providing students with tools to articulate their knowledge and experience and help them arrive at insights that are personal, meaningful, and constructive; and fostering and supporting junior faculty. The discussion was followed by a lively Q&A session that engaged many student attendees.

Future Visions of K-pop

The conference concluded with a keynote speech by Soo-Man Lee, founder and chief producer of SM Entertainment. SM is one of South Korea's largest entertainment companies and is famous for fostering and popularizing the careers of a myriad of K-pop groups and stars — including the likes of aespa, NCT, Red Velvet, SUPER JUNIOR, and EXO — and for leading the worldwide K-pop phenomenon and the musical side of Hallyu

Lee recounted his roots as “K-pop’s first mover,” explaining how K-pop music expanded globally and how it demonstrates the power of content amid exponential technological revolution. “It connects the hearts of people around the world beyond generations and ideologies,” he said.

Lee described SM’s systematic production and management system, which he coined “Culture Technology (CT)” and which includes casting, training, content production, and marketing. This so-called CT system is the “growth engine of K-pop,” he noted.

He elaborated on his vision for a future of K-pop that centers on the “Play2Create” (P2C) ecosystem and combines metaverse technology. Within this blockchain-based ecosystem, which Lee says forms part of a new creator economy, fans, or “prosumers” can proactively use the original SM intellectual property to enjoy and create new content through recreation. The ultimate vision of K-pop and Hallyu is to contribute to human creativity, concluded Lee.

The conference made headlines in Korean media and elsewhere. Explore selected media coverage, the event press release, conference agenda, and YouTube playlist including the full livestream recordings via the links below

Selected Media Coverage

Event page and complete agenda 
Event press release 

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Dafna Zur with K-pop group aespa.
News

K-pop’s “Next Level”: Notes from the Field

Prof. Dafna Zur shares impressions from her visit with Soo-Man Lee, founder and chief producer of SM Entertainment, and the rare opportunity to tour the Seoul-based company and see the K-pop megastars-in-training. The preliminary results of this fieldwork, part of a documentary on K-pop, will be aired during the Korea Program's 20th Anniversary conference.
K-pop’s “Next Level”: Notes from the Field
Xion, Seoho, Ravn, Keonhee, Leedo, and Hwanwoong of OneUs visit the Empire State Building
Commentary

It’s Time for K-pop Stars to Speak Out on Human Rights

With few exceptions, South Korea’s K-pop idols have been conspicuously silent on controversial subjects – including the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
It’s Time for K-pop Stars to Speak Out on Human Rights
The Gwangju Uprising
Commentary

Gi-Wook Shin on Gwangju and South Korea’s Democracy

“The tragic outcome was a brutal wakeup call to Korean democratic movements.”
Gi-Wook Shin on Gwangju and South Korea’s Democracy
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The Korea Program at Stanford’s Walter H. Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center marked its 20-year anniversary with a two-day conference that gathered eminent leaders from academia, government, and the K-pop industry, including former United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and global star SUHO, leader of K-pop group EXO.

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Siegfried S. Hecker
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North Korean officials, including Kim Jong Un, have made several statements in recent months that begin to bring clarity to the country’s evolving nuclear doctrine. Within those statements, there has been a notable emphasis on the role of tactical nuclear weapons (TNWs) in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s (or, North Korea’s) larger nuclear strategy and the potential for early nuclear use should conflict break out on the Korean Peninsula.

38 North Director Jenny Town recently met with Dr. Siegfried Hecker, Senior Fellow (emeritus) at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford University, to discuss these developments and what they could mean for future North Korean nuclear activities, and potential new security challenges.

Read the rest at 38 North

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North Korean officials, including Kim Jong Un, have made several statements in recent months that begin to bring clarity to the country’s evolving nuclear doctrine. Within those statements, there has been a notable emphasis on the role of tactical nuclear weapons (TNWs) in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s (or, North Korea’s) larger nuclear strategy and the potential for early nuclear use should conflict break out on the Korean Peninsula.

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