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Politicising aid

Publication Date : 14-09-2012


North Korea’s flip-flopping on the flood aid proposal from South Korea appears to have revealed its intention to use it to further embarrass President Lee Myung-bak’s administration and aggravate internal discord in the South.

On Wednesday, it rejected Seoul’s relief aid package of 10,000 tonnes of flour, 3 million packs of instant noodles and medicine, describing it as a “meager amount of materials.” It further accused the South of “ridiculing the humanitarian spirit of the Red Cross”.

A day earlier, Seoul suggested the list after North Korea’s chief Red Cross official sent a message to his South Korean counterpart Monday, saying that the North would accept the aid offer and requesting details on the kinds and quantity of the aid items. The move came a week after the South proposed relief assistance to the North to help victims of recent floods that the communist country said left 176 people dead and 220,000 homeless.

The rejection recalled last year’s case of Pyongyang rebuffing Seoul’s flood aid proposal worth 5 billion won (US$4.43 million) as too small to accept.

As a Unification Ministry official here indicated, the North seems to have had from the start no intention to accept the latest offer from the South, considering that Seoul expressed its willingness to provide additional assistance.

The amount suggested by Seoul was also far from small. North Korea’s nominal head of state Kim Yong-nam expressed gratitude for Vietnam’s commitment to donate 5,000 tonnes of rice to help flood victims during his visit to the Southeast Asian nation early this month. In 2010, South Korea sent 5,000 tonnes of rice, 3 million packs of instant noodles and 3,000 tonnes of cement to North Korea after devastating floods washed away thousands of houses and a vast tract of farmland near the border with China.

The North’s intention not to accept the aid was also reflected on its continuous vicious verbal attacks on Lee and his administration. Pyongyang appears to have no reason to back away from its vow not to deal with the Lee government ― which has stuck to strict reciprocity in inter-Korean ties ― hoping the next administration in Seoul will be more conciliatory.

Pyongyang also apparently attempted to utilise the aid offer to exacerbate internal discord in the South over assistance to the North. Its request for the list of aid items had actually prompted disagreements among South Korean media and civic groups over whether and how to aid North Korea in recovering from flood damage.

The Lee administration, for its part, should have made the offer earlier ― and hopefully in a larger scale ― to make clear its humanitarian cause.

It is regretful to see a humanitarian matter of easing the suffering of flood victims being repeatedly politicized between the two Koreas.


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