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The Twentieth Anniversary of the Asia Pacific Center for Theoretical Physics (APCTP): Looking Forwar
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The Twentieth Anniversary of the Asia Pacific Center
for Theoretical Physics (APCTP):
Looking Forward into the Future



The Asia Pacific Center for Theoretical Physics (APCTP) came into being due to the determination of a few good theoretical physicists to establish a regional platform for their community. The center has been with us for twenty years, and it has created an academic atmosphere of its own kind. We congratulate APCTP on its twentieth anniversary and wish the best for its future. We expect that APCTP will continue to expand on its achievements for decades to come. At the same time, we might also worry that APCTP could encounter rougher waters. I would suggest that the center should, in order to overcome some future possible challenges, strengthen three aspects of the center, namely, the integrity, the identity, and the internationality of APCTP.


The readers of this AAPPS Bulletin are certainly well aware of the Asia Pacific Center for Theoretical Physics (APCTP), though some of them might not have ever visited the center. It is located in Pohang, which is not the easiest destination. It is one of the remotest cities from Seoul in the sense that even high-speed trains take a couple of hours to travel there.

Nevertheless, APCTP has overcome its relative remoteness to become a regional platform for theoretical physics. It has also overcome difficult chronologies to become so. For twenty years, APCTP has sustained and maintained its original purpose and aims: inter alia, to promote the highest quality of research, to train young scientists in all areas of theoretical physics, and to enhance international cooperation among the member countries.

This year is its twentieth anniversary and APCTP is entering into full maturity. It should be acknowledged that its transition into adulthood has been possible under the aegis and support of the communities in the Asia-Pacific region. APCTP would like to express deep gratitude for their contributions. At the same time, the effort and devotion of the Korean community to make APCTP as it is now should not be underestimated. The Korean Physical Society has faithfully endeavored to support APCTP as an international organization.

Looking forward into the future, we hope for the continued successful development of APCTP. In order for these hopes to be realized, I believe that APCTP should be prepared to prevent some foreseeable roadblocks in its future.

I would like to describe the basic issues the center should address in order to confront the challenges of the future. I characterize these issues as the integrity, the identity, and the internationality of the center. The integrity of the center requires consistent financial support and a sustainable management system. The identity of the center requires the distinguishability and uniqueness of the center from other similar institutions both domestically as well as abroad. The internationality of the center requires restructuring of the membership. The resolution of each of these challenges is essential for APCTP's prospects for a secure future.


Although APCTP is not a national agency, almost all of its annual budget for operation and maintenance is provided by the Korean government. The contributions from abroad are significant but practically small. Indeed, APCTP is regarded by Korean laws as a domestic foundation. Thus, APCTP is an NGO that involves foreign members as trustees and carries out international activities. The center enjoys a special status, at least fiscally, among other national institutions in the Korean academic environment.

However, this is not desirable because each year APCTP must work to at least maintain, and ideally extend, its status as a beneficiary from the Korean government. The budget for APCTP is included in the budget-type funds for the central government of the public sector. In the sense of sustainability, this is not a suitable budgetary allocation for an institute that seeks a stable future. The bureau of the center has tried, by persuading and negotiating each year, to place the budget of APCTP in the general account.

A possible means for a stable budgetary future could occur by having the center become a national agency, recognized by Korean laws. A caveat is that, in this case, the center would need to become a fully domestic institution. The problem with such a change is that it is possible that the international community would lose the reason to donate voluntary contributions. Alternatively, the international community could contribute more actively and more significantly in order to make APCTP an international agency, in the practical sense of the word.

My personal opinion is that the president of APCTP should operate and manage the center as an academic institution. He or she should pour his or her efforts and enthusiasm into how to spend the budget effectively rather than how to secure the budget for the next year.


The second point is the identity of the center. What can be pointed out as the main characteristics of the center? On the one hand, APCTP should compete with, for example, KIAS and CTPU in Korea and YITP in Japan KIAA in China. These institutions are manifestly research institutes, well established and well recognized. Can APCTP be counted as one of them in the field of theoretical physics in the Asia-Pacific region?

On the other hand, APCTP should distinguish itself from, for example, Gordon Research Conferences in USA, Shonan Meetings in Japan, the Schloss Dagstuhl Seminare in Germany, and Erice Seminars in Italy, which are world-famous for organizing important academic meetings year round on a number of specified fields. They have established international reputations and acquired world reputations in their corresponding fields. Can APCTP be counted as one of them in the field of theoretical physics in the Asia-Pacific region?

I believe that the identity of APCTP requires distinguishability and uniqueness from other similar institutions, both domestically as well as abroad. As of today, the center serves as a hub in two ways: as an academic venue and as a research institute. The center regards the two characteristics equally important. Thus, the center organizes, hosts, and supports a number of workshops, schools, meetings and seminars while employing a group of talented researchers and post-doctors as its own research engine.

I believe APCTP should concentrate its resources to answer not both of these questions but one of them. Neither of these questions are easy to answer. My personal point of view is that it would be easier for APCTP to become a hub for academic venues rather than to compete with KIAS or YITP or KIAA, since the research engine is limited. The decision is up to the future strategy and in the hands of the presidency.


A third point is the internationality of APCTP. I think this is the most important to be emphasized, since being an international organization is the highest and foremost raison d'etre for APCTP. However, to be an international organization, APCTP needs to make some adjustments or clarifications for the sake of the international community.

In the beginning, APCTP was developed through an agreement among a dozen of researchers, from the Asia-Pacific region, in theoretical physics. However, these researchers did not officially represent their countries nor their affiliations.

It is rather far from ordinary that an international organization has commenced in such a way, and in particular, that the founders of APCTP did not made any statement or create a founding charter. Neither terms of references nor a letter of agreements had been prepared to be signed in by themselves. Instead, the structure, the governing body, and all the other details have been entrusted in the legal formulations that have finally been approved by Korean court.

In other words, APCTP did not come forth by sharing membership among countries. I do not mean that its legal status should be clarified. There are indeed a variety of international organizations that have been established and operated simply under an agreement among their members.

For fiscal reasons, this was inevitable, to be qualified to receive operation money from Korean government. For the international community, this hampers their ability to actively participate in the organization, management, as well as academic activities of APCTP. By active participation, I mean that I believe that APCTP should be composed of memberships and the membership rules should be clearly defined. The duties, the responsibilities, the privileges as well as the advantages of members should be clearly stated.

Are the memberships shared by countries? Is the term "member countries" eligible? If a country is a member of APCTP, the government of the country, usually represented by the relevant ministry, should appoint a delegate to represent the country. I do not think this is the case for APCTP. Then, are the memberships shared by individuals? In other words, does the word "a member of APCTP" mean literally a person? No, this is definitely not the case.

Then, how about the member institutions? If an institution such as a physical society or a physics research institute is a member of APCTP, the presidency of the institution should appoint a person to represent the membership. I think this is roughly the case. The membership of APCTP is therefore shared by institutions. However, membership within the international framework of APCTP has never been stated unambiguously, other than by the domestic legal formulation approved by Korean court.

To be fully international, and to draw full participation from the international community, the membership (shared by member institutions) should be equivalent in a pre-agreed way. For example, economically, one vote could be given for one delegate, whereby the number of delegates would be proportional to the amount of the contribution. I suppose Korea would have to release some of its privileged status within APCTP to other countries in order to make APCTP truly an international organization. At the same time, APCTP should be operated by the contributions of member institutions, not by the budget of the Korean government. This is indeed a difficult conundrum.


I congratulate APCTP on its twentieth anniversary. I hope that APCTP will become a fully international organization, with stable operations and secure budget.


Sun Kun Oh is a professor of physics at Konkuk University. He has received his PhD from Konkuk University in 1981. His field of research is high energy physics. He has visited the Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP), Oxford University, RWTH Aachen, and CERN as a fellow or a researcher. Since 2000, he has worked as a Korean delegate to the Global Science Forum, the Committee for Scientific and Technological Policy (CSTP) of OECD. He has worked for the World Federation of Scientists at the Ettore Majorana Foundation since 2011. He is a founding member of the Astroparticle Physics International Forum.

AAPPS Bulletin        ISSN: 2309-4710
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