South Korea official expresses ‘regret’ over dispute with U.S. think tank

April 11 (UPI) — A state-run South Korean think tank expressed “regret” on Wednesday following a decision from directors at the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies to close most operations after the government’s decision to pull funding.

USKI, located in Washington D.C., opened in 2006. The South Korean government has since funded about $19 million of the think tank’s operations, The Washington Post reported.

The institute operates 38 North, a website dedicated to North Korea issues, and hosts scholars.

A recent decision from South Korea’s Korea Institute for International Economic Policy to withdraw funding, citing failure to comply with audit requirements, has been met with a strong response from Robert Gallucci, who became USKI chairman in September.

Gallucci said South Korean government officials told him to fire Jae H. Ku, director of USKI, and assistant director Jenny Town.

Gallucci, a former U.S. negotiator, said he was told “all funding would be cut off” if he did not dismiss Ku and Town, which he refused to do.

The analyst did not elaborate on reasons for the requests targeting specific personnel, but in a recent Facebook post Town blamed South Korean government “propaganda.”

The USKI decision to shutter most operations may not have been what KIEP had in mind, however.

Yonhap reported Wednesday that Lee Jae-young, the new KIEP president, said he hopes to deepen and expand Korean studies and Korean language education programs at Johns Hopkins SAIS.

Lee also said KIEP has been striving to “strengthen” U.S.-South Korea relations and public diplomacy through research funding, and the USKI decision to close operations was “extremely regrettable.”

The South Korean think tank had been providing about $1.9 million annually in funds to USKI. Lee said the funds could go toward appointing a full-time professor of Korean studies at SAIS, South Korean television network KBS reported Wednesday.

USKI’s funding became an issue in 2014, when South Korean lawmakers complained about expenditures.

But Gallucci said South Korea has engaged in actions that are “utterly inappropriate for a foreign government.”

USKI was founded by former Washington Post correspondent Don Oberdorfer and the funding was approved by former South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun.

The website 38 North will continue to operate using other sources of funding, according to founder Joel Wit.

UPI partnered with USKI to host a forum on media coverage of Korea last fall.