South Korea hopes to deliver food aid to North Korea as initially planned, despite Pyongyang’s refusal to accept it in a show of the regime’s discontent with an upcoming joint military exercise with the US.
The Unification Ministry said Wednesday that North Korea’s working-level officials have expressed “a negative view” toward South Korea’s assistance of 50,000 tons of rice, citing the joint military drills scheduled for next month.
The World Food Program’s office in Pyongyang, which is in charge of overseeing the food donation, informed Seoul last weekend about the refusal following meetings with officials of North Korea’s Foreign Ministry.
In June, the government announced its plan to offer rice via the UN agency to help the North, which is suffering from a food security crisis due to floods and heat waves.
According to the Commodity Intelligence Report, issued by the US Department of Agriculture on Monday, North Korea is estimated to produce 1.36 million tons of rice this year, the lowest level in 10 years.
“The WFP was informed of the North’s stance during working-level talks,” Ministry of Unification deputy spokesperson Kim Eun-han said during a regular briefing.
Kim said the government was trying to confirm the North’s official position through the WFP.
If North Korea issues an official notification or credible remarks by senior officials, that would be regarded as the regime’s formal decline of Seoul’s humanitarian assistance.
In the meantime, necessary procedures for the delivery of food aid, such as selecting a cargo vessel, will be temporarily halted.
“The government hopes that the shipment of 50,000 tons of rice will be completed by September as originally planned,” Kim said.
There have been cases of South Korea’s direct humanitarian assistance to North Korea falling through in the process of consultations between the two sides. But this is the first time Pyongyang has rejected South Korea’s aid via the WFP.
In recent weeks, North Korea has been expressing its displeasure with the 19-2 Dong Maeng military drills.
On July 16, a spokesman for North Korea’s Foreign Ministry told state media that Trump reaffirmed halting military exercises during his meeting with Kim last month, and the US decision to forge ahead with them was “clearly a breach” of their agreement at a summit in Singapore last year.
Seoul’s Defense Ministry said Monday the name and timing of the latest military exercise would be confirmed after consulting the US.
By Park Han-na (firstname.lastname@example.org