Reconciliation time

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Reconciliation time

President Park Geun-hye asked the government to come up with a long-term aid program to help North Korea with disease control and prevention, starting with a supply of vaccines and antibiotics for tuberculosis and German measles. As the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome outbreak in South Korea underscored, diseases have become a common universal danger that requires constant watch and care to prevent their spread. Medical assistance for weaker North Koreans, such as infants, children and pregnant women, should be hastened and unaffected by political factors. Due to a poor medical infrastructure, an outbreak could be catastrophic for North Korea. Helping the country prevent and better respond to diseases is necessary for the well-being of people living across the border.

Food aid should also be separately considered for North Korea as it faces its worst-ever drought. Seoul officially maintains that it was not considering food aid to North Korea because Pyongyang had not asked for it. But it should offer aid first as a humanitarian gesture. Despite rain in June, food rations have been reduced to 310 grams (11 ounces) per person a day from 410 grams. The grain yield has decreased by one-fourth from a year ago due to the lengthy drought. The situation may be grave, as North Korea has hurriedly asked for food aid from Iran. If Seoul provides food without hurting Pyongyang’s pride, inter-Korean relations could see a breakthrough. Seoul can make an offer while negotiating family reunions and resumed tourism.

North Korean officials could be invited to the opening ceremony of the Gyeongwon rail line in July. The line, refurbished at a cost of 150 billion won ($133 million) will be of no use if it is not connected to North Korea. The rail project could be discussed as joint inter-Korean cooperation program. North Korea will be interested in the project as part of its plan to develop Wonsan, on the southeastern coast, as a special foreign tourism zone. South Korea also could propose to hold some of the games of the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics at North Korea’s Masikryong ski resort.

The president has recently intensified her message to improve ties with North Korea. Seoul approved requests for visits to North Korea by Lee Hee-ho, the widow of President Kim Dae-jung, and Kaesong joint committee members to discuss minimum wages in the industrial park. Pyongyang must accept Seoul’s reconciliatory and humanitarian gestures. It must be practical and work with Seoul through rail, logistics and other economic projects as well as a food and medical aid program.

JoongAng Ilbo, July 11, Page 26

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