South Korea approves $11m aid to North

Infants in a neonatal ward of the Pyongyang Maternity Hospital. South Korea is set to contribute US$4.5 million (S$6 million) to the World Food Programme to buy nutritional products for pregnant women and infants in North Korea, despite protests by o
Infants in a neonatal ward of the Pyongyang Maternity Hospital. South Korea is set to contribute US$4.5 million (S$6 million) to the World Food Programme to buy nutritional products for pregnant women and infants in North Korea, despite protests by opposition parties and Japan.PHOTO: REUTERS

Help for kids, pregnant women criticised for possibly affecting impact of UN sanctions

South Korea has approved US$8 million (S$10.8 million) worth of humanitarian aid to North Korean children and pregnant women, despite concerns that it may compromise the impact of the latest round of UN sanctions imposed on the regime.

The Unification Ministry said the decision was reached at an inter-agency meeting yesterday, with Unification Minister Cho Myong Gyon reiterating the government's stance to "pursue humanitarian aid apart from political issues".

But the ministry also said it will "weigh the timing and size of the aid package after taking into account factors such as inter-Korea situations". The move is aimed at addressing the concerns of opposition parties and Japan, after the government revealed on Sept 14 that it was mulling over the decision.

The news came just days after the United Nations Security Council passed a new resolution, including oil and textile restrictions, to punish the North for conducting its sixth nuclear test on Sept 3. Pyongyang remained defiant, lobbing another missile over Japan last Friday.

In a phone conversation the same day, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe asked South Korean President Moon Jae In to consider the timing of the aid package. But Mr Moon insisted that aid should be dealt with "regardless of political situations".

Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga also spoke out, saying it is "important" to refrain from actions that can weaken international efforts to squeeze the North.

Analysts said South Korea should resume aid to its neighbour to help alleviate hardships faced by ordinary North Koreans, but that it would be unwise to do so at a time when other countries have ramped up pressure on the North. The Philippines has suspended trade, while Mexico has expelled North Korea's ambassador to its country.

"It would look as if South Korea is not part of this united front of the international community," Sogang University's international relations professor Kim Jae Chun warned.

 

The Unification Ministry said the decision was reached at an inter-agency meeting yesterday, with Unification Minister Cho Myong Gyon reiterating the government's stance to "pursue humanitarian aid apart from political issues".

He told The Straits Times that the timing is not right and the government may have decided not to give aid immediately as it is "acutely aware of the criticisms".

The main opposition Liberty Korea Party had urged the government to abort the plan, while the minor Bareun Party said South Korea "should not nullify" efforts by the international community to pressure the North.

Humanitarian aid to the North has been suspended since January last year, after Pyongyang conducted its fourth nuclear test.

Seoul is now set to contribute US$4.5 million to the UN-led World Food Programme to buy nutritional products for pregnant women and infants in North Korea, and another US$3 million to Unicef for vaccines and medical supplies for children.

While there are concerns that the money might end up in the pockets of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un or be used to finance the nuclear programme, some analysts said South Korea is pushing ahead to regain some leverage over the North.

All ties with Pyongyang were cut after the previous administration shut down the inter-Korea Kaesong Industrial Complex early last year.

Prof Kim, however, said the aid package is part of a series of engagement projects undertaken by the Moon administration with the goal of improving ties with the North.

"It is a little step towards unification," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 22, 2017, with the headline 'S. Korea approves $11m aid to North'. Print Edition | Subscribe