Seoul to resume humanitarian aid to North Korea
In March 1 address, Park Geun-hye calls for ‘more flexible engagement’
The Park Geun-hye administration is planning on stoking a thaw in the long-frosty relations with North Korea with a resumption of humanitarian assistance to the country, a senior Blue House official told JoongAng Ilbo yesterday.
“As part of trust-building efforts, we will first start humanitarian assistance,” the official said. “Besides the aid, we are also considering what else we can do.”
The government’s policy on North Korea revolves around a “two-track strategy” - supporting UN sanctions against Pyongyang’s provocations while pursuing trust-building policies at the same time, the official said.
“Rather than a strategy of ‘sanctions first and aid later,’ we’re going to participate in the international push for sanctions on the regime as chair of the UN Security Council, but we’ll also make moves based on mutual trust with North Korea,” the official added.
Inter-Korean relations entered a deep freeze under the former Lee Myung-bak administration with a series of provocations by the North such as the sinking of the Cheonan warship and the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island.
In retaliation, most cross-border interactions and business projects have been suspended under the so-called May 24 sanctions. The Lee administration had said it would never back away from the sanctions until Pyongyang apologizes for the Cheonan incident, in which 46 South Korean sailors were killed.
Government statistics show that the volume of inter-Korean trade has dropped from 289.2 billion won ($267 million) in 2007 to 14.1 billion won in 2012.
“There will be more flexibility than in the Lee administration’s policy, which was to make demands of Pyongyang first and then to do something for them later,” the official said. “We are sure that the principle of Park’s trust-building idea will be applied to the international community as well.”
The aim is to slow down the negative cycle in relations.
“If North Korea stages further provocations, that would prompt stronger sanctions, which would pose a grave threat to the future of the Korean people,” he said. “Park believes she must resolve this problem.”
Still, separately from this plan, “national defense should remain tightened” and “Pyongyang should at least respond to the demands and resolutions of the Security Council,” the official added.
Park said in her speech to mark the March 1 Independence Movement Day yesterday that she will pursue “more flexible engagement” with North Korea if the regime is willing to “make the right choice and walk the path of change.”
Park urged Pyongyang to “uphold its agreements with South Korea and the international community,” “normalize inter-Korean relations and open an era of happiness on the Korean Peninsula together.”
She also reiterated her warnings on Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program, saying, “North Korea must realize that nothing will be gained from nuclear development or provocations but greater isolation and hardship.”
Since Park was inaugurated on Monday, North Korea’s state-run media has not released any statements regarding Park’s calls for the country to fulfill its international obligations.
The Choson Sinbo, a pro-Pyongyang propaganda Web site based in Japan, said on Wednesday that “the new ruler of the government in the South shouldn’t take the same path as its predecessor, who has been stigmatized as a ‘failed president.’?”
Five years prior, the Rodong Sinmun, the mouthpiece of the ruling Workers’ Party, issued its first condemnation of Lee Myung-bak about a month after his inauguration, after looking into his March 1 address. Following that, Pyongyang continued a steady stream of invective against him.
Pyongyang is expected to keep an eye on the next UN sanctions in response to its third nuclear test and the upcoming Korea-U.S. joint military drill scheduled for this month before releasing an official statement.
By Kang Tae-hwa, Kim Hee-jin [firstname.lastname@example.org]