NATIONAL

[Newsmaker] Seoul's aid to NK faces Japan's opposition

By Jo He-rim
  • Published : Sept 15, 2017 - 17:32
  • Updated : Sept 15, 2017 - 20:58

The South Korean government said Friday that its plan for an $8 million humanitarian aid package for North Korea would not be affected by the rogue regime’s military provocation Friday. But pressure intensified from in and outside of the country to abort -- or at least suspend -- the plan. 

During a phone conversation after North Korea's fresh launch of an intermediate-range ballistic missile on Friday, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told Moon to consider timing of Seoul's humanitarian aid to North Korea, according to Cheong Wa Dae.
 
But President Moon Jae-in responded that aid should be extended regardless of political considerations, presidential officials said.

Earlier in the day, North Korea fired an intermediate-range missile over Japan, demonstrating its determination to continue developing weapons of mass destruction. 

President Moon and Prime Minister Abe             (Yonhap)

“The government maintains its stance on humanitarian aid for the socially disadvantaged in the North regardless of the political circumstances,” Lee Eugene, deputy spokesperson for the Ministry of Unification, said in a regular briefing.

As strong international sanctions are expected to have crippling effects on Pyongyang’s economy, the impact is likely to hit the socially disadvantaged there first, she explained.

“The support program seeks to provide cereals and vaccines to the vulnerable social group in North Korea and we believe it does not violate the spirit of the United Nations,” Lee said. The ministry will make the final decision on the project at a scheduled meeting on Sept. 21, the spokesperson added.

Humanitarian aid has been cut off since January last year under the former President Park Geun-hye administration after the reclusive regime conducted its fourth nuclear weapons test.

The Foreign Ministry said Thursday that the government had explained its plan to the United States and Japan beforehand.

However, according to a report by the US’ Voice of America on Friday, the US Department of State spokesperson refused to comment on Seoul’s aid project and told the media outlet to inquire with Seoul’s Foreign Ministry.

Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga was also reported to have expressed his opposition, Thursday, suggesting that such aid would weaken international efforts to pressure the recalcitrant regime.

Lawmakers here are also divided over the issue, with opposition political parties lashing out over the appropriateness of the plan and its timing.

The main opposition Liberty Korea Party made harsh comments against the government, claiming that it is “out of its mind.”

“Is the government in its right mind to think to send money to the North right after the international community unanimously agreed to pass a UN resolution for stringent sanctions against the communist regime?” said Rep. Shim Jae-cheol of the conservative party at a press briefing Thursday. “When will President Moon Jae-in’s ‘crush’ stop for the ‘world’s troublemaker’ Kim Jong-un?”

The minor opposition Bareun Party also said that while it is not against the idea of humanitarian aid, the timing does not seem appropriate.

“There is a right time for everything. Describing the government as incapable of dealing with national security may be too much of a praise now. It has given up on dealing with national security,” acting Chairman and Floor Leader of the splinter conservative party Rep. Joo Ho-young said at a party meeting Friday.

The ruling Democratic Party of Korea, on the other hand, welcomed the aid project.

“While strong sanctions are needed, it is also crucial that the government continues to make various efforts to lead to peace,” the party’s spokeswoman Kim Hyun said.

A civic group composed of 56 North Korea support groups here, the Korea NGO Council for Cooperation with North Korea, also expressed its support for the aid package.

By Jo He-rim (herim@heraldcorp.com)