Interview with Dr. Victor D. Cha, D.S. Song–KF
Chair in Government and International Affairs
and Director of Asian Studies Department at
Georgetown University and Korea Chair at the CSIS
In this edition, the KF Washington, DC, Office speaks with Dr. Victor Cha, D.S. Song–KF Chair in Government and International Affairs and Director of Asian Studies Department at Georgetown University and Korea Chair at Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). The Korea Chair at the CSIS is the first permanently endowed policy studies program on Korea in the United States. Since appointed as the Korea Chair in 2009, Dr. Cha has been one of the leaders in Korea-related policy discussion in Washington, DC, and the United States.
As Director of Asian Studies at Georgetown University and the Korea Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), you have been a multi-player in the areas of Korean Studies and policy community in the United States. Would you please briefly introduce both institutions and tell us about your role?
The Asian Studies program at Georgetown has a long history as a quality undergraduate certificate program. When Dean Robert Gallucci made me director in 2007, my mandate was to build the graduate profile of the program. We did this with the creation of a graduate certificate program in 2008. We won in 2009, for the first time in Georgetown’s history, a Title VI Department of Education Grant making the Asia program a national resource center on Asia. In 2011, we created a Master’s degree in Asian Studies, which has become one of the most popular degrees of its kind in the United States.
At CSIS, from 2009, as Korea Chair, we have built an independent, non-partisan policy studies program that aims to advance issues of mutual importance to the United States and Korea. Most of the work at CSIS is policy-oriented rather than academic, but it is not lobbying. Our main mission is to increase the level of informed discussion there is on US–Korea relations. We are focused on trying to do research in areas that would be helpful to making good policy. Some of our signature projects include one of the first studies in English on North Korean cyber-capabilities; a white paper on the US–ROK alliance; a report on civil nuclear energy cooperation; a book on unification; and our newest project to be released this year is a new interactive website, “Beyond Parallel: Increasing Transparency and Understanding about Korean Unification.”
In May of 2016, CSIS Korea Chair celebrates its seventh anniversary. Looking back at the past 7 years, what is the most notable achievement of the Korea Chair in terms of public diplomacy in the United States?
It’s hard to point to one event or one accomplishment. I think what we are most proud of is being one of the first permanently endowed policy studies programs on Korea in the United States, and being sought after as an independent, objective, and trusted group that produces high-quality research on issues important to Americans and Koreans. We are reaching a wide audience—in 2015, Korea Chair events had over 400,000 viewers online and in person, and Korea Chair publications had well over 600,000 views and downloads.
What are some signature projects that you are currently working on, and why did you start these projects? Also, what are some goals you and CSIS would like to achieve through these projects?
◇ Beyond Parallel:
Our newest project is BP, a website dedicated to enhancing understanding and transparency related to unification. There is so little that we know about it, yet it is one of the most important variables that will affect the lives of Koreans, Americans, Chinese, and others. With this website, we hope to create a central portal for global discussion on unification that will reduce misperception, increase transparency with high-quality research, and ultimately enhance strategic trust.
◇ US–Korea Next-Generation Scholars Program (NextGen):
This is one of my favorite projects. We seek to educate the next generation of Korea scholars in the United States and abroad about how to think and talk about policy issues. Many of these scholars are rising stars in their fields, but may also be the only Koreanists within 200 square miles of their campuses. So when something happens on Korea, they are looked to for advice and commentary. We want to help them talk intelligently about policy issues even if this is not their expertise. The senior scholars we involve also enjoy mentoring these younger scholars.
You have been at the forefront of educating next generation Korea experts while bridging the academia and policy community. Why is this important and what can both Korea and US do more to bridge such gap, as well as to foster the young scholars who can contribute to the policy community?
The most important thing that we do as scholars is to raise the level of informed and educated discussion there is on Korea for Americans and vice – versa. Not every scholar wants to be a policy expert. That is fine. But we all have a responsibility to be able to contribute to the public policy discussion if asked. And we should do so in educated and informed ways. I think NextGen does this.
In Washington DC and Korea, experts often say that policy discussion on Korea is heavily focused on North Korea issues. Do you agree with this assessment? If yes, what would be the areas or topics that can be studied and explored more in the US or jointly with Korea?
Policy discussions usually do not gravitate to things that are going well. They gravitate to things that are difficult to solve and that are critical to security. This is why we are focused on North Korea all the time. I think an area of research that is neglected is macroeconomic policy in South Korea. Slow growth can have longer-term strategic implications that need to be better understood.
KF Washington, DC, Office