Spending plan prepares for unification progress

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Spending plan prepares for unification progress

The Ministry of Unification said yesterday its 2015 budget will increase by 10.4 percent to 1.47 trillion won ($1.4 billion) as the Park Geun-hye administration scrambles to boost financial support for social and cultural exchanges with North Korea in its pursuit of unification.

The 10.4 percent increase for the Unification Ministry budget compares with a 5.7 percent expansion in the overall budget for the coming year. The spending plan was endorsed at a cabinet meeting yesterday presided over by Prime Minister Chung Hong-won.

The National Assembly is expected to approve the spending scheme from respective ministries by Dec. 2.

The Unification Ministry’s general budget for 2015 will go up 5.8 percent year-on-year to 2.3 trillion won. However, the inter-Korean cooperative fund, which includes spending on humanitarian support for North Koreans, will jump by 11.4 percent to 1.24 trillion won.

Most notably, spending for inter-Korean social and cultural exchanges will double to 11.2 billion won. The ministry explained the measure is to prepare for potential cooperative cultural events that President Park proposed during her Liberation Day address on Aug. 15. In it, she called for both Koreas to co-host a celebration next year of the 70th anniversary of liberation from Japanese colonial rule.

“The budget increase is part of preparatory steps in case inter-Korean relations improve next year, which would naturally invigorate cultural and social exchanges between the two Koreas,” said a ministry official.

The defense budget will rise 5.2 percent next year to 37.6 trillion won, with most of the increase going to beef up security for soldiers. The 5.2 percent hike is the largest yearly increase since 6.2 percent in 2011.

Effective next year, soldiers will see their pay go up by 15 percent and basic lunch money by 5 percent. The Ministry of National Defense will install 603 additional gyms and basketball courts and give out winter gym outfits twice per year instead of once.

The plans are part of the government’s belated measures put in place after an Army private of the 28th Division faced systemic abuse by fellow soldiers that led to his death in April. Subsequent suicides of soldiers and harassment cases at different divisions led the ministry to vow broad reforms.

Albeit comparatively minor, the budget devoted to securing key defense measures such as the “kill chain” capacity and the Korea Air and Missile Defense (KAMD) will climb from 1.18 trillion won to 1.36 trillion won next year.

The budget for research and development for the ministry’s self-developed technologies also will go from 2.33 trillion won to 2.58 trillion won.

BY SEO JI-EUN [spring@joongang.co.kr]

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