Thursday, 25 Apr 2002

SEOUL, South Korea

Green Future’s office has moved. Today I went to see the new office, which is full of books and reports and staffed with dedicated people.† While discussing various issues with executive director Lee Sang Hun, I was told that one of the other staff members, Lee Yong Rye, is organizing a Northeast Asia Atmospheric Network conference in July.

The NEAAN initiative started in 1995 under the auspices of the environmental wing of the Citizen’s Coalition for Economic Justice. The founder of CCEJ, Youn Jae-hyun, is now chairman of Green Future, and the environmental wing evolved into the Citizen’s Movement for Environmental Justice.

In 1995, I was still a student at the China School of Journalism; in my free time, I volunteered at the Green Weekly of Beijing’s Science and Technology Daily. That was when I first made contact with Korea by calling Jina Lee, then a director of the environmental desk of CCEJ and organizer of the first NEAAN conference.

Time flies. I never imagined then that I would get to meet the people I’d talked to on the phone and be so involved with Korean environmental groups. After all, back then, it had only been two years since China and South Korea, two former Cold War foes, had normalized their relations. Shortly thereafter, China started to accept Korean students; today, more international students in China come from Korea than from any other nation.

The new office of Green Future is not far from my graduate school alma mater, KDI School of Public Policy and Management, so I made a detour to visit my old stomping grounds. I saw some friends who still work there as staff, and ran into a Chinese student, Li Qun, who asked me to join her for dinner with another Chinese friend, Li Ju Qian, who works at Korea University. Li had a scholarship to research social and environmental safeguards pertaining to China’s entry into the World Trade Organization.

Despite my initial skepticism, Li convinced me that it made sense to study China’s entry into the WTO from Korea — instead of from China, which at first seemed more logical to me. Li pointed out that studying and conducting research in other nations is good for the individual students, for the country as a whole, and for international understanding. People naturally develop greater insight into and passion for foreign countries in which they live, and these exchanges can assist in creating positive international relations.

Li is right. Without studying here, I probably would have never gotten to know Korea. Given the 40 years of chilly relations between China and South Korea that followed the Korean War, the two neighbors have a lot to catch up on, so every single positive interchange counts. That’s true not only of these two nations, but in fact of all the nations of the world, whose people — all of us — dream of a green and peaceful world.