Feed North KoreaOn his visit to Seoul yesterday, Stephen Bosworth, Washington’s special envoy on North Korean policies, stressed that South Korea and America shared a strong consensus over the issue of food aid to the North. His remarks translate into the U.S. government’s support for the Lee Myung-bak administration on the issue, which opposes food assistance.
But North Korea experts in the U.S. have continuously raised the need to resume aid to the North on political and strategic grounds. A group of U.S.-government officials led by Ambassador Robert King, special envoy for North Korean Human Rights Issues, will soon visit the North to take a look at its situation. When they return, we will have a clearer picture of the Obama administration’s stance on the issue. And our government may need to review its position accordingly.
So far, the Lee administration has maintained a hard-line position: It cannot provide massive aid unless the North apologizes for its brutal attacks on the Cheonan warship and Yeonpyeong Island and also makes tangible progress in the denuclearization process. Public opinion is split. While a majority of citizens concur with the government’s tough approach, a considerable number argue it’s wrong for us not to help our brethren across the border when we in the South enjoy an oversupply of rice.
Despite relatively weak public support, the JoongAng Ilbo supports food aid to the North for two reasons. First is the humanitarian consideration. North Korea’s longstanding food shortage originated from the Kim Dynasty’s slavish adherence to socialist policies, not from the fault of its oppressed people. We roll up our sleeves to provide aid for famine-stricken countries in Africa without blaming their governments for starvation. We cannot turn a blind eye to the destitution of our compatriots with whom we share the same blood, language and history.
More important is a strategic reason. South and North Korea have fought with each other on a divided peninsula for a long time - even after the Cold War and the ideological battle was seemingly over with the demise of communism in Europe. The two Koreas are stuck in an outmoded conflict. The North is our neighbor, with whom we cannot live without. Regardless of our deep animosity to its rogue government, we cannot simply rub its existence off the map. Our government needs to approach the issue from a fresh and strategic perspective by embracing the North as a partner for our common future. Food aid can serve as a stepping stone.