The Unification Ministry on Thursday said it had proposed a 1.9 percent increase in its budget for cooperation projects with North Korea next year, despite escalated tensions and a stalemate in cross-border projects.
A total of 1.27 trillion won ($1.09 billion) has been earmarked for the Inter-Korean Cooperation Fund next year, up from this year’s 1.24 trillion won, according to the ministry.
The fund, established in 1991 to facilitate humanitarian and economic exchanges between the two Koreas, makes up the bulk of the ministry’s 1.45 trillion won budget for next year.
The budget increase largely reflects plans to revamp the Demilitarized Zone on the border with North Korea for peaceful use, in line with President Moon Jae-in’s proposal in 2019 to turn the heavily fortified DMZ into an international peace zone.
The ministry has allocated 24.6 billion won for the project, up 34 percent from this year. It would be used to build a peace park, trekking routes, museums and exhibition halls.
From the Inter-Korean Cooperation Fund, the ministry has allocated 652.2 billion won, or 51.5 percent, for humanitarian cooperation with the North and 589.3 billion won, or 46.5 percent, for inter-Korean economic exchanges. About 2.21 billion won, or 1.7 percent, has been set aside for exchanges in the social and cultural sectors.
Inter-Korean relations remain at a standstill, as US-North Korea denuclearization talks have been deadlocked since 2019. South Korea and the US have expressed support for humanitarian assistance for the North, but the reclusive regime has been unresponsive.
The ministry’s total budget of 1.45 trillion won also includes a general budget of 230.4 billion won, which grew slightly from this year.
Of the general budget, 95.2 billion won is set aside for resettlement support for North Korean defectors, 17.2 billion won for unification education, 15.7 billion won for intelligence and analysis and 14.6 billion for unification policy.
The ministry’s request will be submitted to the National Assembly on Friday for final approval.
By Ahn Sung-mi (firstname.lastname@example.org