Blue House denies that it pushed for replacement of USKI director at Johns Hopkins SAIS

Posted on : 2018-04-09 18:06 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
Allegations were raised by the Chosun Ilbo in interviews with Robert Gallucci and Jae H. Ku
The homepage of the US-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins SAIS
The homepage of the US-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins SAIS

Allegations have been raised that the Blue House was involved in the decision by the Korea Institute for International Economic Policy (KIEP), a state-funded think tank, to end financial support for the US-Korea Institute (USKI) at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS). The Blue House allegedly halted funding in a bid to pressure the USKI to replace its conservative-leaning director, Jae H. Ku. The Blue House immediately denied these allegations as being “entirely untrue.”

The allegations about the Blue House’s involvement were raised in interviews with Ku and USKI chairman Robert Gallucci that ran in South Korean daily newspapers Chosun Ilbo and Joongang Ilbo on Apr. 7. Ku was quoted as saying that Hong Il-pyo, an administrator in the Blue House’s Policy Office, had played a leading role in cutting off funding, while Gallucci was quoted as saying that he had been asked to replace Ku by various South Korean officials, including Ambassador to the US Cho Yoon-je.

Established in 2006, the USKI primarily researches South Korea-US relations and North Korea issues with 2 billion won (US$1.8 million) in yearly funding from the KIEF. Ku has been the director of the institute since 2007.

“The US-Korea Institute receives funding every year, but its statement of accounts has only been a couple of pages long, and its performance assessments have been extremely poor. The National Assembly has been taking issue with the institute’s operations and has been attempting to implement reforms,” a senior official at the Blue House said in a meeting with reporters on Apr. 8.

The KIEF, the body that funds the USKI, released an explanatory statement of its own on Apr. 8. “Through 2016, the US-Korea Institute’s statement of accounts consisted of a single page containing a table that only listed the total amount spent on each program. Along with that, they sent a batch of materials unrelated to the use of funds, including various columns, contributions, newsletters and seminar presentations,” the KIEF said in its statement.

The Blue House provided the following explanation of how the funding was cut off: “Last year, the National Assembly, with the agreement of the ruling and opposition parties, allocated 2 billion won in funding for the US-Korea Institute with a supplemental request for them to rectify their opaque operations and submit a report by Mar. 2018. Accordingly, the board of directors of the National Research Council for Economics, Humanities and Social Sciences (the NRCS, a body under the Office for Government Policy Coordination that manages and oversees the Korea Institute for International Economic Policy) concluded that Ku should be replaced after reviewing an on-site inspection and a reform plan.” But the USKI refused to replace Ku, and the NRCS decided to divert the funding to a Korean studies program at the same graduate program. The senior official from the Blue House denied the Blue House’s involvement and said that Hong Il-pyo had not asked for Ku’s replacement.

The USKI problem came up during the administration of former president Park Geun-hye. During the 19th National Assembly in 2014, Kim Ki-sik, head of the Financial Supervisory Service, began objecting to the USKI’s opaque execution of its budget. Kim’s aide at the time was Hong Il-pyo. During the 20th National Assembly, Rep. Lee Hak-young, the ranking lawmaker with the Democratic Party on the National Assembly’s National Policy Committee, reportedly picked up the baton on this issue and demanded reform at the USKI. “Since the Liberty Korea Party also shared concerns about the lack of transparency in the USKI’s operations and the execution of its budget, they did not disagree with or oppose the addition of a supplemental opinion [about improving operations],” Lee said.

But since Gallucci and Ku strongly suspect that the Blue House was involved in the request for Ku’s replacement, the dispute over the truth is likely to continue. In an interview with one newspaper, Gallucci said that replacing the director constituted inappropriate meddling in academic freedom. Ku said that the USKI had sent between 3,000 and 5,000 pages of program information to KIEF every year and that he was baffled by allegations about a lack of transparency.

“The USKI was adequately informed of our view that our longstanding cooperative relationship with the institute was important and that institutional reforms were needed to develop that relationship. But the USKI was unwilling to accept our proposed reforms, which it regarded as an infringement on its autonomy, and ultimately the decision was made [to cut off support],” NRCS Chairman Seong Kyong-ryung told the Hankyoreh.

By Seong Yeon-cheol and Song Ho-jin, staff reporter

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