South Korea’s long-stalled plan to provide state-backed humanitarian assistance to North Korea is expected to gain traction, boosted by the United Nations Security Council’s adoption of new guidelines, experts said Tuesday.
Earlier in the day, the UNSC was reported to have adopted US-proposed guidelines aimed to ease the provision of humanitarian aid to North Korea, amid growing concerns that layers of crippling sanctions against the reclusive nation had been cutting off humanitarian aid in an excessive manner.
The guidelines will be delivered to all 193 UN member states after the Netherlands, which chairs the Security Council committee monitoring sanctions against North Korea, said none of the 15 council members objected to the proposed guidelines, according to media reports.
The UNSC’s move is expected to allow the Seoul government to resume its $8 million humanitarian assistance program to North Korea. The plan was unveiled in September 2017, but failed to be implemented due to tensions between Washington and Pyongyang over the North’s nuclear weapons program.
If the plan goes into effect, nutritional products and vaccines worth $8 million, specifically targeting infants and pregnant women, will be delivered to the North via UNICEF and the United Nations Food Program.
“The guidelines are likely to allow the Seoul government to provide direct humanitarian assistance to North Korea. It’s a chance for the Moon Jae-in administration to save face from criticism that it was withholding its actions due to excessive concerns over US’ thoughts,” said Koh Yu-hwan, a professor at Dongguk University in Seoul.
The Seoul-based expert noted that the guidelines appear to be a US move to accelerate talks with North Korea on denuclearization, which faces a possible delay on rising bilateral tensions over recent reports of the North’s sanctions violations.
The South’s Foreign Ministry said the guidelines were drawn up for humanitarian aid projects to be carried out smoothly under the UN resolutions.
“Our basic stance to is consult with the international community on the development of ties with North Korea, including providing humanitarian assistance, as much as we can beforehand, to prevent any conflict in terms of the UN Security Council,” a ministry official told reporters under the customary condition of anonymity.
The official denied that the guidelines were the current administration’s idea.
Seoul’s Ministry of Unification, which oversees inter-Korean affairs, also welcomed the news, expressing hopes that the guidelines would resolve any difficulties related to humanitarian assistance to North Korea and create a window of opportunity for the global community to actively provide assistance.
A Unification Ministry official explained that the $8 million project is not “directly linked” to the adoption of the guidelines, but that the ministry would discuss how it will affect the project with the relevant international organizations.
If implemented, Seoul’s project will mark the Moon Jae-in administration’s first state-backed humanitarian assistance to the North.
South Korea, under the previous Park Geun-hye administration, cut off all aid to the North after it conducted its fourth nuclear weapons test in January 2016. Its last provision of aid through global organizations was the United Nations Population Fund’s research project in December 2015, in which Seoul chipped in $800,000.
With a population of about 25 million, North Korea has been suffering from decadeslong chronic food shortage. It also severely lacks drugs and medical equipment, including those needed to treat tuberculosis, which plagues the country.
The news came amid mounting evidence that North Korea has been evading sanctions, rendering the US’ plan of “maximum pressure” less effective. The US and North Korea are currently engaged in negotiations over the dismantlement of the North’s nuclear and missile programs.
By Jung Min-kyung (firstname.lastname@example.org)