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North slams South’s humanitarian push

Food aid plan doesn’t lessen its anger over sanctions regime
May 13,2019
Pyongyang’s state media on Sunday condemned the South for citing humanitarian reasons for its plans to provide food aid to the North, saying Seoul is “playing with empty words” rather than attempting to tackle “fundamental issues” in their relationship.

The editorial from Arirang Meari - a state-run outlet in Pyongyang that mainly covers inter-Korean issues - criticized the South for being “entangled with an external environment” and putting off the implementation of their joint declarations from earlier summits. Calling the South’s references to humanitarianism “empty words” and “showing off,” the piece went on say that making a “big deal out of a few counts of humanitarian cooperation projects” was an “insult to public opinion and an act lacking respect and ethics.

“[The South] must not make a mockery out of the historic inter-Korean joint declaration with a trivial counts of goods trading or human exchanges,” the essay continued. “If [South Korea] is truly interested in improving inter-Korean relations as a primary party to national issues, it must boldly divorce itself from a policy of foreign dependence and fulfill its duty to the people by actively sticking by the inter-Korean declarations.”

This call for the South to abandon its foreign commitments appears aimed at eroding the cooperation between Seoul and Washington on international sanctions against the North’s economy. While it made no direct mention of the South’s plan to provide assistance efforts, the editorial’s protests against the humanitarian nature of the project suggests the North would rather receive sanctions relief than food aid.

Analysts say that in spite of such words, the North’s critical food insecurity at the moment - testified to by its voluntary outreach to the United Nations in March - makes it likely that the North will accept any help from Seoul but also continue exerting pressure on the United States and the South through military provocations, like its short range missile tests last Friday.

The two projectiles unexpectedly launched that day from the North’s western coast - short-range missiles, according to South Korea and the United States - once again put to the test the goodwill of administrations in Seoul and Washington to continue dialogue with the regime.

While he expressed displeasure at Pyongyang’s new tests on Friday, U.S. President Donald Trump appeared to take a step back from that position in an interview with the media outlet Politico on Saturday. In the interview, Trump said he does not consider the launches a “breach of trust” at this point in time.

In an effort to downplay the significance of the North’s ostensible provocation, the U.S. president said the projectiles fired were “short-range missiles and very standard stuff. Very standard.”

Trump did not mention whether the missiles were ballistic, a classification that the Pentagon made on Friday. Only a day earlier, Trump had said “nobody’s happy about” the tests and voiced his doubts about whether Pyongyang was ready to negotiate. This faith appeared to be somewhat restored on Saturday, when he said he still had confidence in his personal connection with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, a relationship that he has said is strong on multiple past occasions. “I mean it’s possible that at some point I will, but right now not at all,” Trump said as to whether he would lose confidence in the North Korean leader.

The president’s willingness to provide the North with the benefit of the doubt may be aimed at bringing Kim back into negotiations.

Yet some experts say this may encourage Pyongyang to up the stakes by dialing up its provocations, as it had between its two separate rocket launches on Friday and May 4, to take advantage of Washington’s diplomatic feuds with other countries like Iran and China. By doing so, Pyongyang could be testing the limits of patience in the United States where, following the recent missile test, public sentiment is turning against continued engagement with the regime.

BY SHIM KYU-SEOK [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr]