North Korea’s Pyongyang University worried about U

North Korea's Pyongyang University concerned about U.S. travel ban

Last week, the U.S. government announced that it plans to bar its citizens from traveling to North Korea. This budge is being contemplated due to the risk of “long-term detention in the country.” The travel ban would prohibit any U.S. citizen to go to North Korea, and special validations would be required for anyone to travel to the country under exceptional circumstances. The U.S. government has also requested its citizens to leave North Korea. If the ban comes in to effect, North Korea’s Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST) will face major repercussions as PUST’s President and about 40 faculty and lecturers are U.S. citizens.

The strain inbetween the U.S. and North Korea has been escalating over the treatment extended to U.S. citizens by North Korea over the past year as well as the latest testing of an intercontinental ballistic missile by North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un. While last year, one American student had been detained in North Korea, presently two Korean-American academics who worked for PUST are being held captive. Sang-duk Kim who had trained accounting for some months at PUST and Hak-song Kim who was responsible for managing PUST’s experimental farm were arrested by the North Korean regime about two months ago over unspecified “hostile acts” that are unrelated to their university stint.

PUST is one of the few academic institutions that employ and admit foreign nationals. The imminent travel ban would make it difficult for PUST to function sleekly as it would need to substitute 40 staff members. While it would become unlikely to hire people from the U.S, even inviting academics from South Korea is difficult due to political tensions. PUST Chancellor Chan-Mo Park, 82, who is a computer scientist and a U.S. citizen born in South Korea, says that the travel ban would hurt the university’s program of instructing courses in English. He adds that the university has been facing several other problems. Since U.N. sanctions, it has been rough to buy necessary research materials for the university from China. Apart from this, there have been allegations that PUST graduates go on to work for cyberterrorism. “I can assure you that PUST does not help train hackers and “cyberwarriors” at all,” clarifies Park.

Since PUST is open to foreign nationals, which is uncommon in North Korea, it has been praised for its academic diplomacy. However, CNN reported in May 2017 that PUST might be controlling its staff and students. Michael Madden who is a visiting academic at the US-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins said that pupils admitted to PUST are “heavily vetted for […] political reliability” before their admission and are students are expected to “report on their interactions with foreign staff.” The article also indicated that PUST offers free education to those students who would otherwise have preferred to examine abroad.

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