Korea beyond the headlines: the 2020 LSESU Korea Future Forum

Claire Evans, a member of the LSE Student Union’s Korea Future Association, introduces this Saturday’s conference.

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The LSE Student Union’s Korea Future Association takes pride in being the largest student-run organisation in the world dedicated to discussion of Korean peninsula issues. Its annual conference, the Korea Future Forum, brings together leading experts from around the world to analyse Korean current affairs. Over the past five years, the KFF has been host to panel discussions on topics including security, the economy, technology, and feminism. The multidisciplinary approach of the Forum allows participants to explore a range of issues in the context of South Korea’s future prospects.

This year’s Korea Future Forum will take place on Saturday 29th February, with the title ‘Korea’s Ascent to the Global Stage’. The panels will discuss foreign policy, the fourth industrial revolution, the criminal justice system, and K-culture. In total, this year’s conference features sixteen speakers, who are coming from across the world to London to discuss these issues. As the title suggests, this year the Forum will emphasise Korea’s rising global status and the implications thereof, both domestically and internationally.

The planning for this event has been underway for almost a year, led by a team of around thirty LSE students from a wide variety of academic backgrounds. This ensures that a range of interests are represented in the topics chosen for the forum, meaning that attendees benefit from a range of perspectives on Korea’s development. Although all KFA members are students, most of them undergraduates, the entire planning process is conducted with a high degree of professionalism, and is focused on putting together an event with serious academic credibility. Over the years, the KFA has established good relationships with a number of academics and professional contacts who return to the Korea Future Forum each year to participate in discussion.

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This year’s Forum promises to be an unparalleled opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of Korean society. Although the panel topics were selected months ago, their content is as relevant as ever in the context of recent news stories from Korea. Here’s what you can expect from the panels, and why there is no time like the present to engage with Korea’s future:

Panel 1: 4th Industrial Revolution

Korea’s 4th Industrial Revolution is advancing rapidly, with both domestic and global consequences. Last year, South Korea became the first country in the world to launch full-fledged commercial 5G services, and the government anticipates that South Korean production in 5G-related markets will account for 15% of the global total by 2026 (Yonhap). The panel discussion on this topic will consider the impact of the Moon Jae-in government’s “i-Korea 4.0” initiative, established in 2018, which aims to strengthen Korea’s competitive in science and technology, create new business for the ICT industry, and improve people’s quality of life (ZDNet). South Korea’s technological advancement is sure to remain of great importance to its society and economy for years to come. This panel will discuss the implications of this advancement for Korea, Korean people, and the world.

Panel 2: Criminal Justice

Korea’s Criminal Justice system has been in the headlines in recent months following controversy around former Justice Minister Cho Kuk, who stepped down in October after weeks of mass protests. Many called for Cho to be arrested over corruption allegations, but others participated in counter-protests claiming that the investigations into Cho were politically motivated, and urging for the Minister to continue his programme of prosecution reforms (Reuters). Currently, Korean prosecutors have power over investigations, warrants, and prosecutions, which has led to demand for reform. “Prosecution reform” became the top social keyword in Korea on Twitter in 2019, demonstrating the extent of public discussion on this topic (Twitter). Last month, the new Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae pledged her firm support of prosecution reform, calling it the “demand of the times” (Korea Herald). The future prospects of Korea’s prosecution reforms will be a key topic of discussion for the Korea Future Forum’s Criminal Justice panel, which will also consider emerging issues relating to human rights and the use of technology in investigations.

Panel 3: Foreign Policy

South Korea has frequently made global headlines thanks to its international relations, particularly with North Korea, Japan, and the USA. Despite continued attempts to reconcile the inter-Korean relationship, South Korea faces the challenge of ‘Korea passing,’ a situation in which South Korea becomes diplomatically excluded from choosing its own fate (Stimson). A growing stalemate between the USA and North Korea in 2019, as well as a strained US-South Korea relationship, means that hard work will be required in the coming months to repair alliances and take advantage of diplomatic opportunities. South Korea has also been engaged in a trade and political dispute with Japan, which peaked following Japan’s announcement last August that it would remove Seoul’s favoured trade partner status (BBC). These ongoing issues ensure that the Foreign Policy panel will have plenty to discuss, giving attendees a chance to hear expert perspectives on current affairs.

Panel 4: K-Culture

This discussion of Korean culture and soft power is arguably more timely than ever in the wake of Parasite‘s success at the Academy Awards and the release of BTS’s hotly anticipated new album, widely expected to top the Billboard charts (Washington Post). Since the 1990s, Korea has implemented a hugely successful soft power strategy which has aimed to promote Korea’s image by exporting its cultural products. The success of this strategy is reflected in the economy, with BTS alone estimated to bring over $3.6 billion into South Korea annually through album sales, concert tickets, merchandise, and tourism (The Diplomat). Korea’s global appeal is also evident in the increasing number of people around the world studying Korean language (Culture Trip). These trends look set to continue, at least judging by the number of ‘Must-see Korean Movie’ lists doing the rounds online following Parasite‘s international success. The final panel discussion will examine the global impact of Korean culture and soft power and discuss what direction the government’s soft power strategy is likely to take in future.

In summary, the LSESU Korea Future Forum is a unique opportunity to explore Korea’s political, social and cultural issues in a global context. Regardless of their own academic or professional background, attendees will have the chance to engage with debates on Korea’s development and future trajectory. Through the panel discussions and networking opportunities throughout the day, it is hoped that all participants will leave with a greater appreciation of Korea, and a better understanding of the ongoing issues underlying the headline stories.

The LSESU Korea Future Forum will take place on Saturday 29th February in the Old Theatre at the London School of Economics and Political Science, Houghton Street, London. Tickets cost £30 (or £15 for students) and include lunch and are available at: https://www.lsesu.com/ents/event/10072/. The event is conducted entirely in English.

The LSESU Korea Future Association can also be found on Facebook, Twitter (@lsesu_kfa) and Instagram (@lsesu.kfa).

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