[NOTEBOOK] South Koreans Have Overreacted on AidPublic Opinion Against Germany's Beef Donation Is Based
On a Misunderstanding
After reports that the German government is considering a donation of beef sufficient to feed 200,000 people to North Korea, there was great controversy in South Korea. Many Koreans think that the German government's conduct is barbarous: they are donating beef which Germans will not eat because of mad cow disease and the donation should be stopped at once.
Therefore, to understand the position of North Korea, this reporter made a phone call on Feb.19 to an official of the Interests Protection Bureau of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea in Berlin.
The conversation with the North Korean official went like this:
- Did North Korea officially demand a beef donation?
"We did not make any demands. A German doctors' group raised this subject with the North Korea commission on flood damage rehabilitation and the North Korean government gave its consent to the proposal."
- There is a great disturbance about mad cow disease, so will there be any problems?
"There won't be any problem since we will only receive 100 per- cent safe beef which had been quarantined under the regulations of the European Union."
- Just in case, does North Korea have any intention of receiving beef contaminated with mad cow disease?
"Don't even think of such a thing. We're against the influx of the contaminated beef and it is also impossible under German law.
- The North Korean government is negotiating with the German government. What do you think the results will be?
"That depends on the Germans. We're not in the position to ask for mercy."
The Interests Protection Bureau, which has shown a remarkably favorable attitude after the North-South Korean summit in June last year, explained their situation in detail in answer to this reporter's questions.
I reached the conclusion that public opinion in South Korea against Germany's beef aid has been a little exaggerated.
Just as the North Korean official confirmed, the beef which the German government is considering donating is safe, and has undergone inspection. From the beginning, safety was a prerequisite when discussions began on providing beef from 400,000 cattle to the third world rather than destroying it.
It is difficult to imagine giving out beef which can infect people in foreign countries with mad cow disease without any inspections. Germany is not such a country.
The problem is that South Korea misunderstood the report on German broadcasts to mean that North Korea will accept beef from Germany even if it is contaminated with mad cow disease, when the real statement was that North Korea would accept beef aid from Germany despite the mad cow disease crisis in Germany. But it is impossible that North Korea would have demanded contaminated beef, no matter how difficult their situation may be.
When considering the North Korean food crisis and offers of aid, people should ponder whether unconditional opposition is really the right position.
The writer is Berlin correspondent of the JoongAng
by Yoo Jae-sik