South Korea suspends aid to destitute North


FOLLOWING NORTH Korea’s bombardment of South Korea’s Yeonpyeong island on Tuesday, killing four people, Seoul has moved to sever the few largely symbolic ties it has left.

South Korea said yesterday it would suspend aid to the destitute, starving North. But there is very little left to cut. This year, monthly aid shipments – mainly food – have been worth only about $500,000. This rose last month to $7 million as the South permitted more Red Cross aid after severe floods hit the North.

Slashing aid in response to the shelling is a sign of visceral anger from Seoul, which had always argued it would separate humanitarian concerns from politics.

Kim Doo-hyun, director of a South Korean group that sends children’s winter clothes to the North, argued that the stance was wrong. “Even though I understand the government is furious about North Korea’s attack and public sentiment is not good either, I still think humanitarian aid should be continued, despite all this, in order to overcome the current difficulties.” Striking another blow on humanitarian ties, Seoul also scrapped talks to organise reunions of families separated by the division of the peninsula in 1945 and the Korean war of 1950-1953. These are emotionally charged events in which relatives meet family members they had sometimes assumed were dead.

North Korea severely criticised Seoul’s move, saying the spirit of good will created by reunions earlier this month “was now once again in danger due to the South’s evil and ignorant war provocation”. After the sinking of the South Korean warship the Cheonan, the South severed just under half of its trade with the North. North Korea’s most valuable export – sand – had already been stopped.

The only significant commercial tie left is an investment enclave in the North Korean city of Kaesong, where South Korean managers run small factories – and hold intermittent talks with counterparts from the North.

(Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2010)