May 14, 2019 13:32
President Moon Jae-in met with World Food Programme Executive Director David Beasley on Monday to discuss food donations to North Korea.
Beasley, who is in Seoul for a forum organized by the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, also met with Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chul and Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha.
The U.S. government had made it clear it will not intervene if South Korea sends food aid to the North. But North Korea has just carried out several missile tests again, so the South Korean government's haste has raised some eyebrows.
"Beasley talked about recent WFP reports on the food shortage in North Korea, and expressed concerns about seriously low food rations there," Cheong Wa Dae said Monday. "He stressed the importance of emergency humanitarian aid to the vulnerable people of North Korea, and President Moon agreed."
In his meetings with Kang and Kim, Beasley asked for the government's participation in aid programs for vulnerable groups in North Korea including infants, toddlers, and pregnant women, highlighting the need to separate the political and humanitarian agenda. They reportedly discussed the timing and scale of aid as well.
In a report on food security in North Korea released on May 3, the WFP and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN wrote that the food shortage in North Korea this year is the worst in a decade, and the impoverished country needs 1.36 million tons of food aid.
But the U.S. is in favor of caution. Stephen Biegun, the U.S. special representative for North Korea, reportedly expressed concerns during his recent visit to Seoul that North Korea could misappropriate food aid for the military.
"In previous years, actually, North Koreans had begun to buy some assistance on the open market to make up the gap that they needed," said Scott Snyder at the Council on Foreign Relations in an interview with the Voice of America on Saturday. "I think that if we are talking about providing assistance that removes the incentive for North Koreans to go out and purchase food on the open market... then we are actually beginning to subsidize the regime, and I think that would be a wrong way to go."
He added the only justifiable way for South Korea to give direct food aid without going through the WFP would be to make North Korea buy it.
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