Ministry of Unification (Yonhap)
The unification ministry's next year budget for inter-Korean cooperation slightly increased despite chilled cross-border exchanges in the face of deadlocked nuclear negotiations and the North's prolonged border lockdown, according to officials.
Under the budget plan approved by the National Assembly earlier in the day, the 2022 budget for the ministry handling inter-Korean relations was set at 1.5 trillion won ($1.3 billion), up from this year's 1.48 trillion won.
Of the total, 1.27 trillion won was set aside for the inter-Korean cooperation fund, a 2.1 percent hike from this year's 1.24 trillion won, with 31.1 billion won newly allocated to foster local governments' cooperation with the North.
It is unclear, however, whether South Korea will be able to spend the budget to promote inter-Korean relations amid a stalemate in nuclear talks between Washington and Pyongyang, and frayed relations between the two Koreas. In 2020, only 3.7 percent of the cooperation fund was actually spent.
"The budget execution rate is also low for this year. We would need a change in circumstances surrounding the Korean Peninsula to use the fund, and it will also depend on the COVID-19 situation," a ministry official told reporters on background. "The budget allocation reflects our determination to financially back local governments' push for cross-border exchanges."
Other new projects under the ministry budget include 200 million won to counter fake news and 3.28 billion won to build a database center on North Korea and unification in Goyang, just northwest of Seoul.
The budget to support North Korean defectors' settlement here, meanwhile, was cut 2.7 percent to 95.2 billion won due to a decrease in the number of people fleeing the North amid its strict border control to stave off the coronavirus. (Yonhap)