North may be taking 1M tons of China’s grainNorth Korea is accepting 800,000 tons of rice from China to help feed its people after turning down a smaller aid package from South Korea last month, according to a Japanese news report on Tuesday.
Citing a South Korean official and a trader on the border between China and North Korea, a report from the Japanese daily Asahi Shimbun said China was preparing to ship 800,000 tons of rice to North Korea through maritime channels, probably in addition to other foodstuffs like corn that would make the total size of the aid around one million tons.
Beijing’s decision to provide food assistance to the North was made after Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Pyongyang in June, the report said, although no formal announcement has been made about it.
A senior official at the South’s Ministry of Unification on Tuesday cast doubt on the report, saying the ministry has yet to detect any signs that a massive food shipment from China is about to delivered to the North.
Regarding Seoul’s own offer to provide humanitarian assistance in the form of 50,000 tons of domestically grown rice through the World Food Programme (WFP), the official said the ministry was awaiting an official response from Pyongyang.
Last month, North Korean officials told WFP representatives in Pyongyang that the country was leaning against accepting South Korea’s rice despite ongoing food shortages that the UN and the WFP said were affecting 10.1 million people - or 40 percent of the North’s population.
According to the WFP, North Korea’s agricultural sector was buffeted by a series of irregular weather patterns in 2018, resulting in the country producing only around 4.9 million tons of aggregate cereals, an approximate 12 percent decrease from the year before.
In February, Pyongyang lodged a formal request with the UN for assistance through its mission in New York, which Seoul responded to with an $8 million donation to the WFP and Unicef in May, followed shortly after by its plan to ship the 50,000 tons of rice.
While Seoul’s monetary donation was used by the WFP and Unicef to provide nutritional sustenance to the most vulnerable in North Korea, Pyongyang’s refusal to accept the rice aid from the South in July was seen as a protest of Seoul’s joint military exercises with Washington, which eventually kicked off on Aug. 11 and ended Tuesday.
Yet with China now reportedly about to provide a much larger package of food aid, the likelihood that Pyongyang will take Seoul’s offer is lower than ever.
This comes amid a rapid deterioration of inter-Korean relations manifested by the North’s string of criticisms aimed at South Korea, which stressed that there would be no improvement in ties unless the South stopped siding with the United States.
According to the Asahi report, China is also promoting tourism to North Korea in an effort to bolster ties, with Beijing ordering travel agencies to boost the number of Chinese tourists going to the North from 100,000 to 200,000 annually to up to 5 million.
BY SHIM KYU-SEOK [email@example.com]
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