May 16, 2019 13:40
The head of the World Food Programme visited Seoul and met on Monday with President Moon Jae-in as well as the unification and foreign ministers to appeal for food aid for North Korea. Last week Moon said in a TV interview just a few days after North Korea's latest missile provocations that he would "seek the support and opinion" of the South Korean public before deciding on any food aid for the North.
But it looks like he is not seeking them very hard and practically falling over himself to throw whatever aid he can at the North. Yet former U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said Tuesday that she does not think this may be the right time to provide food aid to the North, and according to Daily NK, which has tracked rice prices in North Korea for some time, the price of 1 kg of the staple actually fell from around W5,000 in November last year to around W4,000 last month (US$1=W1,190).
Right now, two thirds of North Korea's population buy rice from open-air markets rather than getting them from rations. If the rice shortage was that severe, prices would have shot up. If there is a shortage, it is only in rations for the North's venal elite. At any rate, North Korea has ungraciously denounced the South's food aid plans as "empty talk" and "trivial bartering." That is hardly the behavior of a country in dire need.
The U.S. said it does not exactly oppose humanitarian aid to the North, but also questions whether there is a true food shortage there. Food is not covered by international sanctions, so the regime could perfectly easily buy it abroad instead of frittering money away on missile launches. When North Korea fired its latest missiles, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the North could use that money to care for its people. And Haley said she fears Kim Jong-un may use any money he saves from getting free food aid to build more nuclear weapons. That is exactly what he has in mind.
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