April 26, 2010 13:01
Microsoft founder Bill Gates expressed concerns about helping North Korea from the new G20 Global Agriculture and Food Security Program, to which his foundation is a major donor, saying Thursday he is unsure if the North is capable of coming up with a trustworthy farm development program and adequately manage an outside aid fund.
The program was established to help solve food problems of developing countries with US$880 million contributed by the G20 countries including South Korea, the U.S. and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-il was reported to have said earlier this year, "What I must do now is to feed the people with rice and let them eat their fill of bread and noodles." As this "confession" implies, North Korea's food shortage this year seems very serious. Seoul estimates the shortage at over 1.2 million tons, equivalent to the food needed by entire population for three months.
But the North is ill prepared to cope with the food problem by itself. Food aid from the South and the international community has all but stopped, and the North's domestic grain market is dead as a result of the botched currency reform. Human rights activists say that in Sinuiju alone, more than 300 people have starved to death so far this year, and that even in high-rise apartments in Pyongyang, scores of the old and the weak starve to death every day. A report that the regime distributed rice reserved for the military, something it did not even do during the famine of the 1990s which claimed more than a million lives, indicates how dire the food shortage is.
Even while thousands of people are unable to bear the hardship any longer and escape the North risking their lives each year, Kim Jong-il spent US$54 million on fireworks to celebrate the birthday of his late father. The sum is enough to buy some 9,000 tons of rice. Kim spent some $700 million last year firing missiles and a nuclear device, enough to purchase over 2 million tons of corns. This is the reality of the so-called Democratic People's Republic of Korea: a system of repression in which the people are alienated from the regime.
On Friday, the North confiscated South Korean government and public enterprises' real estate in the Mt. Kumgang resort, including a multi-billion won meeting center for families divided by the Korean War. But the harder the North Korean line against the South, the weaker South Korean compassion will become. The opposition Democratic Party submitted to the National Assembly in September last year a draft resolution calling on the government to provide rice aid to the North but has now been obliged to consent to the Foreign Affair Committee withdrawing the draft on Thursday, on the eve of the confiscation.
It is a high time the government and the international community seriously considered a new combination of pressure and reward to prevent Kim Jong-il from starving his own people to death.
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