The government yesterday said it has proposed humanitarian food aid to North Korea.
Unification Ministry spokesman Chun Hae-sung in Seoul said, We notified North Korea that the (South) Korean Red Cross will send to its North Korea counterpart 10,000 tons of (imported) corn, 20 tons of powdered milk, and medical supplies for vulnerable members of society such as infants, children and pregnant women.
The North earlier this month had made an official request for aid at an inter-Korean Red Cross meeting.
Seoul will spend about four billion won (3.4 million U.S. dollars) on the aid from a state fund for inter-Korean cooperation.
If the North accepts the aid, it will be the first sent by the Lee Myung-bak administration. Pyongyang had rejected in May last year Seoul`s offer of 50,000 tons of corn.
Compared to the previous two liberal administrations that provided 300,000 to 400,000 tons of rice to the North in the form of a loan every year, the Lee government apparently considered criticism from conservatives over unconditional aid to the North in deciding the scale of aid.
Seoul chose corn, which has little possibility of misappropriation, to prevent food aid from being diverted to the North Korean military as alleged in the past. The South also said the aid will specifically target infants and children instead of adults.
On the size of the aid, spokesman Chun said, I believe 10,000 tons is a significant amount but might not be sufficient given the gravity of North Koreas food shortage.
Seoul seems to have factored in seasonal elements in deciding the scale of aid since Pyongyang is likely to avert an immediate food crisis in the fall harvest season. Given the relatively small shipment, the South this time will not demand strict enforcement of transparent distribution, one of the conditions for humanitarian support.
The North is likely to accept the offer because of a low grain harvest expected this year due to floods and cold weather. It also faces a dollar shortage to import food because of stronger international sanctions.
Seoul is expected to continue using humanitarian aid as leverage for improving inter-Korean relations, and likely to expand aid given the changes in public opinion at home and progress in Pyongyangs talks with Washington.
Dongguk University professor Kim Yong-hyeon said, It is highly possible that the government will turn to providing large-scale food aid after analyzing food supply conditions in the North at the end of this year.