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Seoul mulls $8 million in aid to Pyongyang

Decision on donations through UN bodies to be made next week
Sept 15,2017
The South Korean government said it was considering an $8 million aid package for North Korea via two UN-backed organs that would help young children and pregnant women, stressing it would keep humanitarian assistance separate from political and military affairs when dealing with the Kim Jong-un regime.

The decision will be finalized next Thursday after a vote in the Consultative Meeting on Promotion of Inter-Korean Exchange and Cooperation under the government’s Unification Ministry, which handles South-North affairs. The group is chaired by the unification minister and includes five experts from the private sector as well as the country’s 12 vice ministers.

Approval from a majority of participants is needed for a motion to pass. If this one does, it will be the first time since the left-leaning Moon Jae-in administration started in May that the South will offer aid to the North.

The aid package, relayed Thursday by the Unification Ministry, comes at a highly sensitive time as the outside world tries to get North Korea to ditch its nuclear and missile development programs through sanctions and implied threats of force by the Donald Trump administration.

Less than two weeks ago, North Korea carried out its sixth and most powerful nuclear test, which brought the country closer to miniaturizing a nuclear warhead capable of fitting atop an intercontinental ballistic missile.

On Monday in New York, the UN Security Council unanimously passed its strongest sanctions yet, banning North Korea’s textile exports, which are the country’s second-largest export after coal, and capping the country’s imports of crude oil.

Along with several other measures, the resolution aimed at reducing the North’s annual export revenues by $800 million, or nearly one-quarter, though that goal hinges on how far China, the regime’s biggest trading partner, is willing to go.

The aid package being considered in Seoul doesn’t violate UN resolutions, which exempts legitimate humanitarian assistance.

Japan, which had a North Korean missile fly over its territory just last month, was quick to respond negatively to Seoul’s aid announcement. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters in a daily briefing Thursday that providing aid could “damage” the rest of the world’s attempts to put pressure on the Pyongyang regime.

Suga said now wasn’t the right time for dialogue given North Korea’s continuous provocations, adding that international society needed to be on the same page in terms of “maximum pressure” on Pyongyang.

He urged Seoul not to carry out a decision that will undermine other countries’ “strong will” to put strains on the North.

U.S. President Trump, who lambasted South Korea’s “appeasement” of North Korea, has yet to publicly address the matter.

On Sept. 3, shortly after the North’s sixth nuclear test, Trump tweeted: “South Korea is finding, as I have told them, that their talk of appeasement with North Korea will not work, they only understand one thing!”

The Unification Ministry said it consulted with neighboring countries about the aid package.

Senior South Korean government officials who spoke with local reporters on background were careful to say that specific details of the plan, including when and how the project will be carried out, will be decided “with consideration of North-South relations.”

Asked whether Seoul could reverse the decision to support the North with $8 million worth of aid if it deemed inter-Korean relations got worse, the officials refused to answer.

On why the government decided to announce an aid package now, sources cited the “gravity” of health hazards North Korean children and pregnant women were facing, adding that the timing also reflected President Moon’s commitment to separate humanitarian concerns from political and military relations.

Seoul is considering donations worth $3.5 million through the United Nations Children’s Fund, also known as Unicef, by offering vaccines, basic medical equipment and malnutrition treatment. Another $4.5 million would go through the UN’s World Food Programme to purchase nutrition-rich food supplies for North Korean hospitals and day care facilities.

BY LEE SUNG-EUN [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]