Will Seoul engage North Korea soon? by Chung Min-uck

[Korea Times correspondent Chung Min-uck interviews CanKor Brain Trust member Victor Hsu, Director of International Aid and Education at the South Korean state-run Korea Development Institute (KDI), and Bernhard Seliger, a Seoul resident representative of the Hanns Seidel Foundation, a German organization active in Korea. The two experts applaud the new South Korean President’s “trustpolitik”, and point out that the Park Geun-hye government still has opportunities to carry out a fundamental shift from the current ever-escalating inter-Korean tension. –CanKor]

Trucks loaded with flour as relief aid to North Korea pass a checkpoint on a bridge over the Imjin River in the South Korean border city of Paju, Gyeonggi Province, in this Sept. 21, 2012, file photo. The Seoul government sent 500 tons of flour to the impoverished North in one of the lastest aid supplies under the previous Lee Myung-bak administration. (Photo by Korea Times)

Trucks loaded with flour as relief aid to North Korea pass a checkpoint on a bridge over the Imjin River in the South Korean border city of Paju, Gyeonggi Province, in this Sept. 21, 2012, file photo. The Seoul government sent 500 tons of flour to the impoverished North in one of the lastest aid supplies under the previous Lee Myung-bak administration. (Photo by Korea Times)

The government last week approved a shipment of humanitarian aid to North Korea, the first aid package approved under President Park Geun-hye, who took office on Feb. 25.

Under the approval, the Eugene Bell Foundation, a South Korean charity group, will ship tuberculosis medicine worth 678 million won (US $605,454) to eight tuberculosis clinics run by the South Korean group in North Korea as early as next month.

The latest gesture comes at a time when inter-Korean relations have hit rock bottom with the North threatening to use its nuclear weapons against South Korea and the United States, and in response, the two allies’ militaries signing a combined operational plan to raise deterrence against possible military threats by the North.

Although the unification ministry denied any political implications to the latest aid approval, referring to the move as being for “strictly humanitarian purposes,” foreign experts say such a symbolic gesture will help improve ties with the North.

“The amount is so little given the nature of the disease. It is a drop in the bucket,” said Victor Hsu, director of International Aid and Education at the state-run Korea Development Institute (KDI). “But the symbolic meaning I think is important. The symbolism of allowing the Eugene Bell Foundation to implement (aid shipments) is constructive in re-building inter-Korean relations.” Read the rest of this entry »

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