[Viewpoint]Coordination in aidThe Lee Myung-bak administration’s North Korea policy is at a crossroads. The pressure on the new administration to provide food aid to North Korea is growing since the Bush administration announced on May 16 its plan to provide 500,000 tons of food to Pyongyang.
But Pyongyang not only refuses to ask for help from Seoul, but has also cut off dialogue channels with the South, driving out South Korean officials stationed at the Kaesong Industrial Complex.
The Bush administration announced the plan right after North Korea provided 18,000 pages of documents related to its past nuclear activities to Washington on May 8.
Although Washington denied any connection between the food aid and the handover of documents on the North’s nuclear history to Washington, the North through its Korean Central News Agency welcomed Washington’s decision.
The food situation in North Korea has worsened this year because of last year’s devastating floods. The World Food Program warns that North Korea will face a food crisis this year, because its food deficit will be 1.8 million tons ? nearly double that of 2007.
North Korea’s official media outlets have stated that “at present, no other task is more urgent or more important than solving the people’s food problem and eating problem.”
But North Korea refrains from asking for help from the South, its biggest donor since 2000, because of anger over the new administration’s hard-line stance toward Pyongyang. South Korea provided an average of 400,000 tons of rice in grants and 100,000 tons as loans each year during the past eight years.
Under its new North Korea policy, “Vision 3000: Denuclearization and Openness,” the Lee administration links aid to the North to denuclearization and humanitarian issues.
It has established three principles as prerequisites for food aid to the North. It would provide food aid if there is an official request from the North; if it is confirmed that North Korean citizens are suffering from a serious food shortage; or a serious natural disaster occurs in North Korea with extensive damage to farm production.
North Korea reacted angrily to the new policy, calling President Lee “an impostor” and a “U.S. sycophant,” and declared that the North would be able to live well without any help from the South.
Rodong Shinmun, North Korea’s Worker’s Party newspaper, criticized, “The new administration is trying to put forward pragmatism, denying the June 15 Joint Declaration and October 4 Statement and trying to degrade North-South Korean relations into material for cajolement of a practical diplomacy.”
Many South Korean civic organizations, including Good Friends, urged the government to take prompt action to send food aid to North Korea. And on May 26, the secretary general of the World Food Program asked Seoul to provide food aid to the North. But the government is not yet ready to take action.
The National Intelligence Service estimates that the food shortage in North Korea is not that serious. The agency estimates the gap between food production and basic human needs this year will be 1.2 million tons, compared to 1.8 million tons estimated by the WFP.
The agency also says the North can manage through October with 300,000 tons from China and international organizations, and 200,000 tons that will arrive by July out of 500,000 tons promised by the United States.
As food aid will give a donor a certain leverage with North Korea, the government prefers to give it directly to North Korea, instead of indirectly through the WFP.
Therefore, the government prefers to wait till the North sends a distress signal, for example, via South Koreans who will participate in the June 15 Joint Declaration anniversary celebration in Pyongyang.
It is not likely, however, that the North will comply with Seoul’s request for a dialogue, not even for a meeting on food aid.
The goal of the new North Korea policy, “Advancement and mutually-beneficial and co-prosperous inter-Korean relations,” will fade if there is no response from the North.
The progressives will certainly condemn the administration for failing to provide food aid to hungry Northern brethren.
But there are also people who voted for President Lee in the election because they were fed up with the Sunshine Policy.
There are two things the new administration can do to get out of the impasse. One is to declare that it will honor all existing inter-Korean declarations and agreements, including the July 4 Joint Communique, the Basic South-North Agreement and the Joint Declaration on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, along with the June 15 Joint Declaration and the October 4 Statement.
As long as Seoul needs a dialogue channel with the North, it must recognize the validity of the June 15 Joint Declaration, which was signed by Kim Jong-il and former President Kim Dae-jung, and the October 4 Statement, signed also by Kim Jong-il and former President Roh Moo-hyun.
It will ease the anger of the North to a certain extent. At the same time, it is important that both Koreas reaffirm the will to observe all five inter-Korean agreements and recognize them as basic principles for national unification.
The other is to maintain close cooperation among five participants in the six-party talks, not only on denuclearization but also on humanitarian issues. Before announcing its food aid to North Korea, it would have been better if Washington consulted with others in the talks and coordinated the amount to be shared by others. For the denuclearization of North Korea, the participants in the talks should take coordinated action even on humanitarian issues.
*The writer, a former editorial page editor of the JoongAng Daily, is a visiting professor of media studies at Myongji University.
by Park Sung-soo