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Seoul Can Be Pro-Pyongyang to Survive

Posted March. 27, 2007 07:29,   


During his official visit to Saudi Arabia, President Roh Moo-hyun attended a meeting with Korean residents there on March 25 (early morning March 26, Korean time). “In order to survive, Korea sometimes has to be pro-America or pro-North Korea. How would we deal with a situation in which North Korea became our enemy?”

“How could there be an extremely pro-Pyongyang administration in South Korea?,” added the president at the meeting held in Al Faisaliah Hotel, saying that helping North Korea is not equal to being a pro-Pyongyang government.

Roh also stressed, “Our third business opportunity (after that in Vietnam and the Middle East) is in North Korea. Once Pyongyang is developed, the South Korean economy will make another leap forward in the global market with stronger competitiveness.”

“The Korean economy will have another chance when the inter-Korean relationship improves, when Korea’s roads and railroads are directly linked to China and Russia, when Manchuria and the Maritime Province of Siberia are developed, and when products made in Korea are transported to Europe via the Iron Silk Road.”

Regarding the critics’ complaints over the government’s assistance to the North, he said, “I have been under so much pressure. Some say that I have not been harsh enough to Pyongyang. We haven’t extended giveaway aid to North Korea. So far, Seoul’s assistance to Pyongyang has been necessary. It is an investment for the future. How can you say that the current administration’s aid to the North is excessive? Can you say that the government is pro-North because of the aid?”

In February, during his official visit to Italy, the president said, “We will have gains even if we have given North Korea everything they’ve asked for.”

Many critics, however, argue that a huge amount of assistance has not borne fruit. They point out that it is dangerous to push forward a substantial amount of financial aid without considering whether the assistance is effective.

“Achieving results from financial aid needs sufficient time because a number of conditions must be resolved. The biggest variables of all would be the nuclear issue, relationship between Pyongyang and Washington, as well as the enhancement of the inter-Korean relations,” said professor Yang Moon-soo at the University of North Korean Studies.

According to the Ministry of Unification, official aid to North Korea including rice, fertilizer and other basic materials from 1998 totaled 2.3 trillion won ($2.45 billion). This comprises public and private assistance of 1.7 trillion won and 0.6 trillion won respectively. The amount of aid is even similar to Pyongyang’s annual budget of $2.59 billion, calculated by the official exchange rate of 150 North Korean won per one U.S. dollar.

Meanwhile, as of last August, since its inauguration, the Roh administration has sent 3.709 trillion won to the North. This includes the flood relief fund for reconstruction and special crop management fund to balance the prices between those of official loans in rice and homegrown rice. Grand National Party member Jin Young maintained that the Roh administration’s aid to the North would amount to eight trillion won if the funds for operating the Gaesong Industrial Complex and organizing the Mt. Geumgang tour are included.

“Over the past eight years, South Korea has sent a substantial amount of funds to North Korea. We need to check whether ordinary citizens in North Korea have benefited from the assistance,” said professor Nam Sung-wook of North Korean studies at Korea University. It is said that the level of market opening, reform, and North Koreans’ living standards seem to have not been improved despite the staggering amount of aid.

Regarding the outlook for the six-party talks, the president said, “If my positive prediction turns out correctly, I will be very proud.”

This could be translated that the transfer of the frozen North Korean accounts from Macao-based Banco Delta Asia will be conducted smoothly sometime soon. The first meeting of the six-party talks’ sixth round in Beijing was concluded on March 22 with the issue of transferring $25 million remaining unsolved. Many predict that it will take at least a couple of weeks for the BDA issue to be resolved.

President Roh is reported to have a positive outlook for the six-party discussion since Washington intends to accept North Korea’s demands as much as possible.

Moreover, it is said that the president was affected by North Korea’s desperate request for money transfer and finance, energy, and humanitarian assistance in return for its abandoning of nuclear facilities.

“North Korea was surprisingly passive during our discussion over the aid issue. We even felt pity. They kept a low profile, saying that ‘after your suggestion, we will think about what we want,’ without demanding anything first,” said one diplomatic source.

But some skeptics say the attitude of Washington and Pyongyang during the discussion would not be a firm ground for the president to officially express his optimism over the talks.

“Perhaps the president expressed his determination of support for the discussion. You can understand the remarks as the optimism which he often shows,” said one government official.