|Upon university graduation, PUST students plant a tree in wishes for a good future. [Image: PUST Facebook]|
On January 30, 2017, Texas A&M University established an educational partnership with a North Korean counterpart — Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST). Officials from PUST reached out to Texas A&M to request help increasing North Korea’s agricultural production. PUST is the only private university in North Korea, and is mainly funded by American evangelical Christians.
Agricultural economics professor Edwin Price, leader of the Texas A&M team, emphasized that this cooperation focuses on humanitarian aid, not politics. Though there is no formal contract now, Price said that his University would send guest teachers in agriculture, provide teaching materials, and improve curriculum settings. This collaboration focuses on agricultural production, science, and technology, instead of policy.
The relationship between Texas A&M University and PUST can be traced back to 2011 when a student of Price invited him to travel to North Korea. After his visit, Price stayed in contact with PUST.
This relationship is an example of how official diplomacy is not a prerequisite for people-to-people cooperation. On June 21, 2016, artists from Pyongyang’s Mansudae Art Studio held exhibitions at American University’s Katzen Arts Center in Washington, DC. The exhibition, “Contemporary North Korean Art: The Evolution of Socialist Realism,” was aimed at broadening the world’s understanding of North Korean art beyond stereotypes. Additionally, in 2016, a Korean American Baptist minister in Texas, Yoo Yoon (also director of Korean-American Sharing Movement of Dallas), went back to North Korea and delivered 3.5 tons of corn to a school for orphans and one ton of noodles to a local hospital to help those in need.
The US spares no efforts in helping North Korean refuges. President George W. Bush signed the North Korean Human Rights Act of 2004 and President Obama followed this with additional legislation. As of 2015, 186 North Korean refuges resided in the US.
Xiaoyi Wang is a research intern at the East-West Center in Washington, D.C. She is a graduate student at Georgetown University.