Aid, but not tolerance

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Aid, but not tolerance

South Korean government officials are engaged in an intense debate on whether to take part in the World Food Program’s massive aid program to North Korea.

Many officials have expressed discomfort with the plan, as inter-Korean relations are on a seemingly endless downward spiral. Indeed, Pyongyang has never offered a sincere apology for the death of a South Korean tourist in the Mount Kumgang resort area.

The North has even gone so far as to begin reassembling its nuclear installations in a protest against Washington’s delay in taking it off the list of state sponsors of terrorism. The political quagmire Seoul faces is understandable.

But a look at the issue from a more fundamental perspective will make it apparent that we should respond to the WFP’s request to participate in the aid program.

First, it is not morally justifiable to leave our brothers to starve and suffer just because they were born on the wrong side of the border.

More seriously, the chronic food shortage and malnutrition is now leaving many North Koreans far shorter and lighter than South Koreans. The physical difference between the two groups has become so great that we no longer look like people who once used to be the same nation.

If we leave this disaster unresolved, the responsibility will eventually fall not just on the North Korean authorities, but on us. So humanitarian food aid should never be stopped, especially when an international group like the WFP appeals for our help with such desperation. Time is running out.

The best way to improve inter-Korean relations is through restoring mutual trust. This goal will be achieved when both sides send out the same consistent signals and messages to each other.

Seoul should, no matter how long it takes, convince Pyongyang that it would offer unconditional humanitarian aid but would show no such unconditional tolerance when it comes to issues like nuclear weapons or the Mount Kumgang incident.

Seoul also should express a clear stance on the recent debacle over a North Korean female spy disguised as a defector. The South also needs to make Pyongyang understand that failure to comply with the agreement on its denuclearization would result in an equally dire failure of inter-Korean economic cooperation, which is badly needed by the North’s tattered economy.

North Korea should be made fully aware that the South could be its last ally standing.

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