THE COLD WAR IN NORTHEAST ASIA: A Report on the 2008 Summer Symposium at the Slavic Research Center

By David Wolff  

On June 25-27, the Slavic Research Center hosted a Summer Symposium on "The Cold War in Northeast Asia" with sessions taking place on the University of Hokkaido’s Sapporo campus. The meeting was held earlier than usual to avoid the travel congestion and security complications to be expected during the G-8 Toyako Summit. Since the Slavic Research Center building was already being prepared for an overall renovation scheduled to last until April 2009, Hokudai’s Gakujutsu Koryu Kaikan and Enreiso Faculty House became the venues for the event.

With major funding from the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science and additional grants from Hokkaido University’s Sustainability Week Committee, the Donga Ilbo Hwajeong Foundation (Seoul) and the Davis Center for Russia
n and Eurasian studies at Harvard University (Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA), top scholars in the field of Cold War studies were invited from Japan, Russia, the US, Korea, China, the EU and Australia. The editors of the two most important journals of Cold War studies attended as well as the directors of several research projects and centers for the international study of the Cold War.

Events kicked off on June 25 with a keynote speech by Ambassador Han Sungjoo, a distinguished Korean diplomat who in addition to previous service as Foreign Minister (1993-4) and Ambassador to the United States from Seoul (2003-5), knows well the perspective of academic specialists on foreign relations from his experiences as Former President of Korea University and now as Chairman of the ASAN Institute for Policy Studies. His speech, linking the past and the present of the Cold War on the Korean peninsula, immediately raised one of the central issues of the conference – Is the Cold War in Northeast Asia really over?  Characterizing Korea as “the Cold War’s last frontier” and “a localized Cold War that refuses to go away,” Ambassador Han also spoke from experience in noting that the recognition of Seoul by Moscow and Beijing in 1991 and 1992, respectively, had created a qualitatively different situation in Northeast Asia, allowing the dangers of the first Korean nuclear crisis of 1993-4 to be defused without military action, which at certain moments appeared to be almost inevitable. A lively question-and-answer period followed with Ambassador Han’s answers satisfying the scholars both in their thoughtfulness and their candor. When Tokyo University Professor Emeritus Wada Haruki asked a question about documents on the Korean War presented as a gift from President Boris Yeltsin of Russia to President Kim Young Sam of Korea, it turned out that Ambassador Han had personally carried those documents from Moscow to Seoul to deliver the present.

After a brief coffee break, three leaders of the movement to create an international history of the Cold War made informative presentations, highlighting the importance of research on Northeast Asia for understanding the overall global structure of the Cold War.  James Hershberg, the Founding Director of the Cold War International History Project at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC, described the transformation of US Diplomatic History into Cold War International History; Nobuo Shimotomai of Hosei University made a fascinating powerpoint presentation of the various successes and failures of Japanese studies of the Cold War to date; and Odd Arne Westad of the London School of Economics drew lessons from the heady days of Russian archival openness in the early 1990s and how those documents were used to force other declassifications, in particular, in Beijing. Sergey Radchenko, also of the London School of Economics, Tsuyoshi Hasegawa of the University of California at Santa Barbara, and Grzegorz Ekiert of Harvard University immediately jumped in to point out various apparent contradictions among the presenters’ experiences and deductions. The lively discussion continued during a gala dinner sponsored by the Hwajeong Foundation to commemorate the tragedies of the Korean War which began on June 25, 1950, exactly 58 years earlier. The conference was off to a very good start.

During the following two days, seven sessions saw the presentation of 22 papers on a wide range of topics pertinent to the Cold War history of Northeast Asia. A total of 120 scholars joined the proceedings. Below is the conference schedule, listing all the presenters, commentators and chairs, together with their affiliations. It seemed particularly appropriate that even as Hokkaido hosted G-8 leaders to solve global problems, Hokkaido University’s Slavic Research Center would host leading researchers on how those international problems came to exist in the context of our region, Northeast Asia.

*David Wolff, Professor of Slavic Research Center, Hokkaido University.


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