The UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) and World Food Program (WFP) recently expressed concerns that North Korea is facing its most severe food shortages in 10 years. The South Korean government is reportedly looking for ways to provide North Korea with support through international organizations and in more direct ways. Is providing support to the North Korean government, however, the right way to save North Korean lives?
The Rodong Sinmun recently ran an article entitled “Let’s Show Our Loyalty to the Party with Rice” on April 29. The article declared that “Our Party’s aim is to focus all our resources and labor on agriculture” and that “Rice is more valuable than gold.” The article also emphasized that “The guns of victory mercilessly ripping apart the enemy’s sanctions must be heard loudly throughout the frontline of agriculture.”
Despite rice being “more valuable than gold,” the hypocrisy of the North Korean regime is laid bare by its call for North Koreans to grow rice not for themselves, but for the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK). The country’s food shortages and international sanctions are all due to the North Korean regime’s missile launches and nuclear tests. The regime, however, argues that international sanctions are the cause of the people’s economic troubles and calls for the people themselves to overcome these difficulties.
The North Korean regime and even some within South Korea have called for the lifting of international sanctions. The reality is that sanctions will be lifted if North Korea were to denuclearize. North Korea, however, is not moving towards denuclearization; rather, it is doubling down on its efforts to become “self-sufficient” and in its demands for sacrifices from the North Korean people. North Korea claims that it lacks food, but the country’s military held mass exercises on May 4, and on May 9 the military conducted a test of what appeared to be a short-range missile.
Concerns over how support to North Korea will be used by the regime has stoked political conflict among South Koreans for a long time. It is not right for South Korea to provide unconditional support to North Korea for humanitarian reasons unless North Korean officials make tangible steps toward denuclearization and improve the country’s human rights situation.
That does not mean South Korea should totally refrain from providing North Korea with humanitarian aid. Simply speaking, South Korea should ensure that political aims are not part of efforts to save lives in North Korea. There’s a need for rational judgement on whether aid will actually save lives. Aid to North Korea cannot be called humanitarian aid if it is just used for political purposes.
Aid must be provided under strict monitoring. There is little chance, however, that proper monitoring will take place given that the South Korean government is willing to bend over backwards to accommodate North Korea. The South Korean government must understand that efforts to open up inter-Korean exchanges through aid to North Korea could actually lead to further deaths of North Koreans.
So are sanctions on North Korea evil, and is aid toward North Korea a good thing? Sanctions are not evil: the North Korean authorities are the ones who are starving their own people and committing acts of provocation. North Korea’s escape from the “enemy’s sanctions” can only come to pass when the North Korean authorities boldly take steps toward denuclearization and improve the country’s human rights situation.
*Views expressed in Commentaries do not necessarily reflect those of Daily NK.