North Korea recently responded to offers of aid made by a number of private South Korean organizations.
According to the Ministry of Unification, officials from ‘Korea NGO Council for Cooperation with North Korea’ are in the North today to discuss the provision of aid to areas of the country hit hard by a summer that has featured drought and flooding in quick succession. Two more similar NGOs, ‘Federation of Inter Korea Cooperation’ and ‘Okedongmu Children in Korea’ are due to visit the country on the 29th.
In the current situation, where official bilateral communication channels are closed off, North Korea’s decision to meet and discuss aid represents an important opportunity to test the waters of communication. The South Korean government is currently responding positively to applications from private groups to provide aid, and if North Korea responds positively to calls for effective aid monitoring, for example, then that may lead to revitalized flows of assistance from other private groups.
From North Korea’s perspective, there are few alternative choices. There is a clear limit to what is possible through the forced mobilization of civilian labor to the flood reconstruction effort. Materials are needed, and such shortages of cement and other materials can be most rapidly overcome using South Korean aid.
Even the possibility that private aid might lead to state aid cannot be ruled out.
North Korea continues to be unwilling to communicate with the government of President Lee Myung Bak, while the South Korean side says it is watching the situation in the North but is not currently considering sending aid. However, as a government official told Daily NK yesterday, “How North Korea approaches private organizations is important,” meaning that the type and scale of the aid North Korea demands can reveal Pyongyang’s intention.
According to Prof. Yoo Ho Yeol of Korea University, “Making public the flood damage in the ‘grain store’ area of North Korea, Hwanghae Province, and moving toward cooperation with private groups are a reflection of the scale of that damage. But they are also considering the concept of receiving South Korean government assistance indirectly through private organizations.”
By being willing to deal with South Korean groups in this way, the North may also be trying to give weight to the approach of the opposition in the South as the country approaches its December presidential poll.