Grassroots Cross-Border Cooperation in Northeast Asia: Korea's Role as Network Hub

Principal investigator: Tessa Morris-Suzuki (ANU, Japan Centre)

While the governments of Northeast Asian nations engage in dialogue aimed at building cooperative regional institutions, less visible regional integration is already being created at grass-roots level by civil society groups. This research project will examine the role of NGOs in promoting cross-border cooperation in Northeast Asia, and will particularly examine Korea’s emerging place as a hub in this networking process.

Key case studies will be: (1) the cross-border activities of NGOs engaged in addressing issues of historical justice and reconciliation (example: the series of Seoul based NGO conferences on history and peace held since 2008 under the auspices of the International NGO Forum for Peace in Northeast Asia and the Northeast Asia History Foundation); (2) the cross-border activities of NGOs engaged in developing new forms of social design to solve problems of human wellbeing and environmental sustainability (example: the Hope Institute, established in Korea in 2005). Research will focus particularly on the history, impact and future potential of networking by these groups within Northeast East (defined as including Korea, China, Japan, Taiwan, Mongolia and Far Eastern Russia).

The project will:

  • Trace the background to and development of networking by the selected NGOs over the past two decades.
  • Map the regional networks that have been developed by this process.
  • Through collection and analysis of documents and through interviewing key participants, assess the achievements of regional networking and the challenges and difficulties faced by NGOs in creating cross-border connections
  • Examine the ways in which these new forms of cross-border activity challenge conventional approaches to the creation and dissemination of knowledge.

Operating outside the formal academic sector, the NGOs at the centre of this project nonetheless engage in a range of research and educational activities as well as in social and/or political activism. The project will explore the implications of these activities for humanities research and teaching, and the possibilities for closer future cooperation between university researchers and the NGO sector.

Drawing on the ideas of scholars such as Karina David, Elizabeth Jelin, Hagen Koo and Kurihara Akira, the project will further contribute to the growing body of research on the role of civil society in social change and regional integration. It will provide fresh theoretical insights into the origins and nature of cross-border social networks in Asia. In practical terms, lessons derived from the cross-border networking experience of local social groups will provide a resource of ideas for those who are interested in developing their own locally-based cross-border initiatives. The remarkablely rich and varied history of such networks based in Korea can, I believe, provide an important source of inspiration for future moves towards regional collaboration by civil society in East Asia.

The project will involve an international conference of university researchers and prominent NGO members under the title “Grassroots Regionalisation and the Frontiers of the Humanities in East Asia”. Proposed invitees include Prof. Baik Young-seo (Yonsei University), Mr. Park Woon-soon (Hope Institute), Prof. Chen Kuan-hsing (National Chiao Tung University, Taiwan), Prof. Kang Sang-jung (University of Tokyo), Dr. Rosanne Kennedy (The Australian National University), Mr. Tonohira Yoshihiko (East Asia Collaborative Workshop, Japan), Dr. Kathy Morton (The Australian National University) and others.

In addition to a series of journal articles and book, the project will involve the collection of visual material - photographs and video. Where appropriate and with permission, this material will be included in the Media Library.

Updated:  17 February 2016/Responsible Officer:  Director, Korea Institute/Page Contact:  CAP Web Team