On the 10th, North Korea finally responded to South Korea’s offer of flood relief aid exactly one week after the original offer was made. However, speaking earlier today a Ministry of Unification official revealed that the North did not accept the offer with open arms, instead requesting information on the type and quantity of items on offer.
Therefore, one government official noted, “We basically accepted the North’s request, but a strategic game of back and forth has begun.”
The government sees the North’s response as an indirect request for rice, cement and possibly heavy equipment. A similar situation occurred in 2011, when Pyongyang flatly rejected emergency supplies for vulnerable demographics while urging the provision of rice and cement only.
Currently, the government is maintaining a flexible approach. “We’ll ask what items North Korea wants and in what quantities, then provide those things that we are able to. Further discussion is also possible,” one Ministry of Unification official explained.
One compromise position could be the provision of wheat flour, which elite North Koreans disdain in favor of rice and which is therefore considered likely to go to the intended recipients. Indeed, such flour already constitutes the main aid product being provided to the North by private organizations. However, it may not be enough by itself to satisfy Pyongyang’s demands.
In 2010 the government did provide the North with requested rice and cement following flooding in the northwest of the country; 5,000T of the former and 3,000T of the latter, along with 3 million units of “cup noodles”. Seoul’s original plan at the time had been to provide 10,000T of cement in total, but the process was halted following the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island on November 23rd that year and the cement, which was warehoused in Dandong at the time, was retained by South Korea.
Not only is the nature of the aid set to become a sticking point; the North also refused South Korea’s call for face-to-face meetings to deal with the flood aid request, instead suggesting that the issue be dealt with through document exchanges.