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Ruling Party to Ask Gov’t to Resume Rice Aid

Posted August. 23, 2010 08:21,   


The ruling Grand National Party will seek resumption of rice aid to North Korea, which had been suspended since the inauguration of the Lee Myung-bak administration in February 2008.

A senior party member said Sunday, “The party’s leadership will officially propose this week that Seoul resume humanitarian rice aid to Pyongyang.”

“The resumption of rice aid to the North will help re-open inter-Korean relations, which have severely deteriorated due to the sinking of the Cheonan by a torpedo attack.”

The official added, “If the party makes an offer to resume rice aid, the government’s consultations with the North will gather significant momentum,” adding, “Inter-Korean relations will see a turning point around year’s end.”

Party insiders say their leadership chose to share roles by asking the government to resume rice aid under a prior mutual understanding. This move is in line with the view that Seoul is about to positively respond to diplomatic attempts by Pyongyang and Beijing to resume the six-party denuclearization talks.

The North reportedly conveyed earlier this year again a message to the South to hold an inter-Korean summit under the condition that Seoul resumes aid to Pyongyang. This includes the provision of 300,000 tons each of rice and fertilizer or 100,000 tons each of rice and fertilizer.

So the ruling camp’s move to resume rice aid to the North constitutes an attempt to shift its principle of “improvement of inter-Korean relations before the resumption of aid to the North,” a policy Seoul insists on.

The ruling party says rice aid to North Korea could spawn the double benefits of helping the North Korean people, who are suffering from flood damage, and assist South Korean farmers who are struggling with a rice surplus.

According to the Food, Agriculture and Fisheries Ministry, the collective rice inventory in South Korea rose from 680,000 tons in 2008 to 1 million tons last year, and is projected to reach 1.4 million tons this year.

The ruling party will also push for setting aside the unused portion of the annual inter-Korean cooperation budget as a “unification fund” by revising the Inter-Korean Cooperation Fund Act.

Last year, only 100 billion won (84.5 million U.S. dollars) of 1.16 trillion won (981 million dollars) in the inter-Korean cooperation fund was used. The remaining amount of more than 1 trillion won was returned to the government’s coffers.

Rep. Koh Heung-gil, chief of the ruling party’s policy committee, told reporters Sunday, “At the regular parliamentary session in September, we will seek to revise the Inter-Korean Cooperation Fund Act by submitting a revision bill of lawmakers to divert the unused portion of the fund as a unification fund.”

“We expect the government to accept this plan,” he told a news conference at the party’s headquarters in Seoul’s Yeouido district.

Earlier, the South Korean Unification Ministry commissioned in June economics professor Ahn Jong-beom of Sungkyunkwan University to study a measure to set aside the unused portion of the inter-Korean fund for reunification purposes.