The Unification Ministry on Wednesday denied offering money to North Korea for a series of inter-Korean summits during secret talks in Beijing last month. A spokesman for the North's National Defense Commission had earlier claimed South Korean officials "disgraced themselves" by offering "a gift of money."
A Unification Ministry official said, "There have been several kinds of talks or meetings behind closed doors in view of the special nature of the inter-Korean relations, but the story about a gift of money is absurd."
It would not be the first time that South Korea has paid for a summit. The first inter-Korean summit in 2000 came at the price of an under-the-table payment of US$450 million. If money has been offered, it would fatally undermine the government's official commitment to avoiding dialogue for dialogue's sake.
Experts were thrown into a frenzy of speculation after Wednesday's bombshell, saying the North would not have made the claim unless the South either actually attempted to deliver cash during a meeting or promised aid.
One possibility may be that the South Korean delegates attempted to give money to their North Korean counterparts in the secret meeting to cover their travel expenses but were rejected. Another possibility is that the South offered to pay the entire expenses for secret meetings held overseas.
But the ministry official denied this vehemently. "Of course there was no such thing as a gift of money," he said. "The story is absurd. I have no idea if any special expenses are needed for such meetings. There's no need to talk further about it."
The South Korean government may also have offered as an incentive for a summit practical humanitarian aid such as rice, or abstract kind of support like a promise to lift sanctions or create a favorable atmosphere in the international community, and the North may have read it as a "gift of money."
During preliminary meetings for the 2000 summit, the South Korean government sent US$450 million secretly to the North Korean regime. This was revealed three years later and led to an investigation by a special prosecutor.