September 26, 2011 13:25
South Korean humanitarian aid to North Korea is on hold awaiting delivery. It includes 1.4 million meals for children and infants, 300,000 cookies, 1.92 million Choco Pie snacks, and 1.6 million instant noodles worth W5 billion (US$1=W1,170). If those supplies had been delivered to the flood-stricken Hwanghae and Kangwon provinces in the North, they could have been put to good use.
South Korea sent a message to North Korea on Aug. 6 that it wanted to send the aid shipment, but the North has not responded. "This means they won't accept it," said a Unification Ministry official. A government source said, "They feel that the goods we are sending do not help the regime. The only things the regime wants are rice and cement." The North in fact demanded rice and cement when Seoul announced early last month that it would be willing to send aid.
North Korea desperately needs rice to feed the 4 million people who are essential to maintaining the regime and dependent on the rationing system, such as government officials, Pyongyang residents and soldiers. The remaining 20 million ordinary people who do not get government handouts have been surviving on their own for some time now. Some say the South should give the North what it wants. But government officials say that is wrong because it can be misused.
At present, the underground economy in North Korea is thriving, threatening the basis of the North's planned economy. It takes between 80,000 and 90,000 won to support one family in the North for a month, but the country's state-run companies and factories pay less than W10,000 a month. North Koreans earn the rest on their own through businesses on the side or selling goods in markets.
Large food aid shipments will merely prop up a faltering regime and strengthen Kim Jong-il's grip on power, and would probably be used to clamp down on ordinary North Koreans. Aid to the North can no longer be based on the naïve desire to help impoverished people. Things have grown much more complicated, and they require the government to think about the political, social and economic ramifications of such a move.
By Lee Yong-soo from the Chosun Ilbo's News Desk
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