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Aid to North higher under liberal leaders

Sept 21,2017
Over the past two decades, except in 1999, 2000 and 2016, South Korea has offered an average of $11.79 million in aid to North Korea through international organizations, with liberal administrations giving significantly higher amounts, according to statistics from the Unification Ministry.

If Seoul decides to push through the aid package today, despite Pyongyang’s latest missile and nuclear tests, it will be the first time for the local government to give North Korea humanitarian support since December 2015.

Last Thursday, the Unification Ministry, which handles inter-Korean relations, announced it is planning to donate $3.5 million in vaccines, basic medical equipment and malnutrition treatment to North Korean children through the United Nations Children’s Fund, also known as Unicef.

Another $4.5 million will go to the UN’s World Food Program to purchase nutrition-rich food supplies for North Korean hospitals and day care facilities, said the ministry.

Less than a day after the announcement, North Korea fired an intermediate-range ballistic missile on Friday morning, which flew over northern Japan and landed in the Pacific.

The aid decision will be finalized today after a vote in the Consultative Meeting on Promotion of Inter-Korean Exchange and Cooperation, a group under the Unification Ministry that is chaired by the unification minister and includes five experts from the private sector as well as 12 vice ministers.

Approval from a majority of participants is needed for the motion to pass.

Data from the ministry indicates Seoul has provided the North a total of $247.67 million in aid through international organizations since 1996, when the government began tallying such information.

Nearly half that amount, or $136.8 million, was given via the World Food Program, while the rest mainly went through the World Health Organization and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, or Unesco.

The Roh Moo-hyun administration offered the highest amount among all former governments: $111.78 million from 2003 to 2008.

His predecessor, Kim Dae-jung, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate credited for his Sunshine Policy of engagement with the North, offered $55.38 million from 1998 to 2003, which includes 1999 and 2000, when South Korea could not offer any assistance due to the International Monetary Fund crisis.

The aid package shrank under the conservative administrations of Lee Myung-bak, from 2008 to 2013, and Park Geun-hye, from 2013 to early 2017. Lee gave $41.86 million while Park gave $35.61 million.

Not only have liberal administrations given more, they have given despite provocations, while conservatives have not.

The Kim Dae-jung administration gave $35.46 million the year after Pyongyang carried out its first test in 2006, and the current Moon Jae-in administration is considering its package after North Korea’s sixth nuclear experiment on Sept. 3.

But after the North conducted its second nuclear experiment in 2009, the conservative Lee Myung-bak administration cut off all humanitarian aid the next year, and the conservative Park Geun-hye administration cut off all aid after the fourth experiment in January 2016.

BY JEONG YONG-SOO [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]