Friday, July 26, 2013

Research Trip Preparation & Vacation at Jeju Island

With the support of the Sigur Center, I am spending this summer visiting Seoul, Beijing, and Tokyo in order to conduct field research on their oil supplier diversification strategies. Interviews, data-gathering, and writing will, of course, be an important part of these visits, but naturally I plan to complement the intellectual pursuits and challenges with cultural excursions and exploration.

My name is Inwook Kim, a 4th-year PhD student in Political Science and I focus on energy security. The current project exposes a puzzling difference in oil import policies among the three major countries in Northeast Asia. In short, the data shows that only China has been moderately successful in diluting its oil-dependence on the gigantic Middle East exporters, while origins of imports remain highly concentrated around the regions for Japan and Korea (see the bar chart below).

Conventional wisdom says that, similar to the logic of building a financial portfolio, the more diversified China has essentially “spread” the risk of energy crisis normally caused by abrupt supply disruption, while Korea and Japan remain significantly more vulnerable to a possible energy crisis.

Oil is an irreplaceable strategic commodity, and an unanticipated shortage of it can have a devastating impact on an industrialized economy and the modern military. Accordingly, oil security has been a primary strategic objective for most oil importers. Historically, supplier diversification has been regarded as a viable and effective means of reducing a state’s vulnerability to an energy crisis. Yet, despite the claimed virtue and shared policy commitments, we still see a divergence in Northeast Asian states’ ability (and possibly willingness) to diversify their oil suppliers. Does the conventional wisdom about the “risk-spreading” effects of diversification still hold against the globally integrated oil market? Are there any new dimensions about motivation and consequence of diversification policies that have not been captured in the existing literature? Overall, how do we account for the puzzling divergence in oil supplier diversification?

Although these questions hold both theoretical implications and practical relevance, little has been written on the topic. While preparing for this trip, I collected data and tried to arrange interviews. Beginning on next week, I’d begin a series of interviews with regional energy experts with a trip to Tokyo next week and Beijing in early August. While organizing interviews, I encountered several disappointing declines, but nevertheless, I look forward to discussing my research questions and arguments with those people who closely follow the Japanese and Chinese energy policy.


On another note, I have spent the last month in Korea. I live and love Seoul, but rather than adding yet another post about cosmopolitan, vibrant, historic, tasty Seoul, I want to talk about Jeju Island where I spent a week-long vacation with family last week. Jeju is located at the south of the Korean Peninsula and is known for its natural beauty, including volcanic hills and mountains, lava tube systems, deep forests, and scenic coastlines. The island contains three UNESCO World Natural Heritage sites: Halla Mountain, Seongsan Ilchulbong Peak, and Geomunoreum. Unfortunately, our trip to Jeju this time did not involve visits to these sites, and the photos below are publicly available ones.

Halla Mountain

Seongsan Ilchung Peak

Yet, rather than these well-known must-visits, Jeju has been a frequent vacation destination for our family for its more low-profile attractions, such as untouched local villages and roads, nameless hills and hiking trails, small but quiet unknown beaches, and of course, fresh and savory feasts. They may not be magnificent and overwhelming, but the island’s culture, history, and geology is so distinct that the unknown local gems still continue to lure us to the island.

A cliff at Wudo Island 

A hiking trail near Seongsan Ilchung Peak

Jeju is working hard to be a better and larger tourist destination, but my impression is that its fame tends to be limited in Northeast Asia. Needless to say, it is a big loss for Jeju and tourists to Korea. For those who want a rest away from glittering Seoul, Jeju can offer such a perfect and unique experience. Welcome to Jeju!

Inwook Kim 
PhD Student, Political Science
Summer Field Research Fellow, Sigur Center 

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