Monday, April 4, 2011

"Private" food aid for North Korea

And that's how Seoul is avoiding looking like it's aiding Pyongyang when it sends food aid to North Korea.

From AFP:
South Korea has authorised private shipments of food for hungry North Korean children, an official said Monday, the latest aid packages to be approved since Seoul eased its policy last week.

Ingredients for porridge and baby formula worth 176 million won ($161,734) will be sent to orphanages and day care centres in the northeastern and midwestern provinces, said the unification ministry.

Chun Hae-Sung, spokesman for the ministry, which must by law authorise cross-border contacts, said the two separate aid packages -- from World Vision and the Join Together Society -- would be sent by road or sea after April 20.

"We will continue to review and approve private humanitarian aid targeting vulnerable populations including children by considering the need, transparency of distribution and urgency," he said.

The ministry said last Thursday it approved a request by a private aid group to send tuberculosis medicine, the first such approval since the North's deadly attack on a border island last November.
I suppose baby formula would be considerably less likely to be diverted to North Korean military bases or to China to sell for cash (unless there's a high demand for untainted baby formula in China... amiright?).

Ditto with the tuberculosis medicine, which, despite humanitarian concerns, is a wise public health policy for Seoul to pursue if it ever imagines a unified Korea that would have to take care of TB patients in the future.

Anyway, we can already see that there are folks starting to clamor for food aid for North Korea, in a way that thinly masks criticism of the hardline approach toward the DPRK following the "death" of Sunshine Policy. Former US Ambassador to Seoul Donald Gregg penned a lengthy piece in the Korea Times talking about how there could be mass starvation come June:
I devoutly hope that well before the mid-June crisis point, Seoul and Washington can come together in agreement on the need for humanitarian food aid being rushed to North Korea, but I wish I were more confident that this will happen. The Lee administration seems firmly attached to its hard-edged push toward regime change in North Korea.

It has been putting pressure on American non-profit and educational institutions which receive financial support from Korea to curtail what Seoul sees as “pro-North Korean” activities. I am also very concerned by recent calls from right-wing groups in Korea for the re-introduction of American tactical nuclear weapons into South Korea as a way to put pressure on North Korea. The Blue House seemingly has distanced itself from these nonsensical demands, but their very existence is totally antithetical to our stated goal of a denuclearized Korean Peninsula, and can only make the attainment of that goal more difficult.
I'm all for food aid if it will actually get to the starving people, but I'm not in a mood to feed the North Korean military or line the coffers of Pyongyang's elite in the process. Especially when it appears "Plan B" (a tough approach to North Korea that Obama of all people seems to be implementing) finally seems to be undermining the regime.


  1. I'm as skeptical as you are about how Pyongyang uses the aid it gets, but I assure you there is no reason to put ironic quotes around "private" in this instance. Having previously worked for one of the organizations that is now sending aid, I can assure you that there is a big difference between their work and government aid.

    Pyongyang welcomes private aid only when it can get nothing else. Because private groups have to answer to their donors, they are much more insistent about taking pictures, monitoring progress, establishing local relationships, etc. Because the aid amounts are relatively small compared to the concessions they demand from the central government, Pyongyang tends to grudgingly permit them access only when it has no other choice.

  2. Totally agree with Kushibo. Changmi interesting comment. It will be interesting to see if the private charities have more success in monitoring food aid than past governmental programs.


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