[Letters] Rational approach to humanitarian aid to North

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[Letters] Rational approach to humanitarian aid to North

South Korea has for long used the carrot and stick approach against North Korea. The two previous administrations dealt with the North utilizing the “carrot.” While some denounced the method as costly, others approved of it as an effective means of improving their bilateral relationship. On the other hand, the current government uses the “stick.” The Lee administration not only reduces the trading of goods but often refuses to provide the North with humanitarian assistance. Recently, North Korea has refused the South’s assistance comprised of flour and basic necessities and instead asked for rice and cement. We should provide aid even if it is not necessarily what they need but what they want.

First, our government cannot determine the direst needs of North Korea. Currently, the two countries are in armistice, even though the situation is closer to cessation of hostilities. No citizen of South Korea is allowed to enter the North, except for a few exceptional cases. What we deem as the North’s most serious need might be lowest on their priority list. Therefore, our judgment on what to provide the North cannot be the absolute one.

Second, the South should take the North’s request into consideration to gain diplomatic leverage. Though the fundamental purpose of a humanitarian assistance is to guarantee the basic quality of life of North Koreans, improvement of the bilateral ties is the secondary goal. On the condition that the aid is not used for military purposes, what items ought to be given must reflect the North’s wants as much as possible to maximize political effects.

When Kim Il Sung passed away, former U.S. President Bill Clinton expressed condolences to the North Korean government. Considering the hostility between Washington and Pyongyang, it is understandable that people were skeptical as to why Clinton took such an action. To this reaction, he replied, “This is diplomacy.” In diplomacy, one cannot always do as it pleases and should instead rule out “emotions” between nations. Our government must take rational actions for humanitarian assistance.

by Lee Kyoung-min Student at Hankuk Academy of Foreign Studies
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