Unification Ministry fumbleThe Unification Ministry’s unconditional support for North Korea is turning into something of a black comedy now. The Unification Ministry said last March that it would offer cash and raw materials worth 3.5 billion won to help build a live video conference center at Pyongyang for families divided by the Korean War. In return, North Korea agreed to inform the South how it used the raw materials and cash to build the center, and allow South Korean government officials to visit the construction site. But 10 months later, no one knows for sure what has happened to the construction project. North Korea has provided no clues about how much progress has been made and how the raw materials have been used.
We can certainly offer aid to North Korea to help arrange more reunions for divided families. But even a project like this requires strategic and deliberate plans based on the relations between the two Koreas in order to reduce unnecessary side effects. But the Unification Ministry has been in blinders until now. It sent North Korea $400,000 in cash, breaching its own principle that no aid for North Korea should be made in cash after the country’s nuclear test. What’s worse, the Unification Ministry chose to send its representative carrying a suitcase full of cash to Pyongyang, which does not look good under any circumstance.
Now look what happened. The concern that the inter-government money exchange should be made with as much transparency as possible fell on deaf ears, and South Koreans learned a lesson the hard way this time.
What’s more appalling is the response of the Unification Ministry. The ministry argued that the project will have “no problem with thorough monitoring.” But with the project turning into a near flop, the ministry keeps saying that it will “demand that the North keep all the agreements made in the first place.” Let’s see later who is going to believe that.
In particular, Unification Minister Lee Jae-joung, whose signature argument has always been more support for the North, should take responsibility. This is no time for the chief officer of the government agency to be quiet when a large amount of taxpayer money is about to disappear. The latest crisis illustrates that once a government agency is immersed in the illusion of unconditional support to the North, it will easily get out of control. It is one of many examples of the legitimacy to shut down the ministry. Even if the ministry survives, there should be ways to prevent things like this from happening.