Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - South Korea, US eye aid to engage North

South Korea, US eye aid to engage North

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
A bridge is flooded and partly collapsed following heavy rains in North Korea’s South Hamgyong province on Thursday. KOREAN CENTRAL TELEVISION

South Korea, US eye aid to engage North

South Korea and the US are discussing the possibility of offering humanitarian assistance to North Korea as a way to engage the recalcitrant regime, but it remains to be seen whether Pyongyang is ready to return to dialogue.

South Korean foreign minister Chung Eui-yong and his US counterpart Antony Blinken held phone talks on August 6, during which the two officials consulted on avenues of cooperation with the North, including humanitarian cooperation, and agreed to continue their efforts to engage Pyongyang, according to the South’s foreign ministry.

The US state department also said the two had discussed recent developments in Pyongyang and “agreed to explore humanitarian initiatives on the Korean Peninsula”. Blinken also confirmed US support for inter-Korean dialogue and engagement, it added.

When inter-Korean communication channels reopened July 27, they raised hopes of renewed nuclear diplomacy with North Korea, though fresh tensions could arise in light of the upcoming Seoul-Washington military drills later this month. Pyongyang has warned that the joint exercises will cast a pall over inter-Korean ties, but reports on August 8 cited government sources as saying they would go ahead.

Last week, director-level diplomats from Washington and Seoul met to discuss the resumption of talks with North Korea, and humanitarian assistance was part of the agenda as well.

At that meeting, the two countries discussed the current situation on the Korean Peninsula and prospects for humanitarian cooperation, according to the US state department. Present were US Deputy Special Representative Jung Pak; Rim Kap-soo, director-general of the foreign ministry’s peace regime bureau; and officials from the unification Ministry and Cheong Wa Dae, the presidential Blue House.

The unification ministry also confirmed that the two sides had discussed providing humanitarian assistance to improve inter-Korean relations and revive Washington-Pyongyang talks, and said they had looked at areas where the two Koreas could cooperate independently.

The ministry is also reportedly reviewing ways to provide around 10 billion won ($8.7 million) to private aid organisations for cooperative humanitarian projects in the North.

In response, a ministry official said the government was reviewing various ways to support local civic organisations in carrying out humanitarian aid efforts, based on the principle that humanitarian cooperation between the two Koreas needs to continue regardless of the political and military situation.

Seoul is holding out hope that humanitarian support may bring Pyongyang back to the negotiating table, considering the chronic food shortages in the North due to the protracted Covid-19 crisis and typhoon damage from last year.

This year, the food situation is expected to worsen amid severe weather conditions. The North’s state media reported on August 5 that thousands of homes had been destroyed last week and some 5,000 people evacuated due to heavy rain and flooding.

But Pyongyang has repeatedly refused offers of aid, and earlier last month, the North accused the US of using humanitarian aid as “sinister political scheme” to put pressure on other countries.

Observers say the current situation might be dire enough to prompt Pyongyang to accept Seoul’s humanitarian assistance this time, but that connecting the aid to nuclear talks could be tough. The North insists it won’t restart talks unless the US withdraws its hostile policy, an apparent reference to sanctions.

Another major challenge appears to be the US-South Korea military exercises, which Pyongyang has frequently denounced, calling them a rehearsal for an invasion.

With the allies likely to go ahead with the military drills, albeit in a scaled-back manner, they could provoke Pyongyang and dent prospects for further engagement.



  • Wing Bank opens new branch in front of Orkide The Royal along Street 2004

    Wing Bank celebrates first anniversary as commercial bank with launch of brand-new branch. One year since officially launching with a commercial banking licence, Wing Bank on March 14 launched a new branch in front of Orkide The Royal along Street 2004. The launch was presided over by

  • Girl from Stung Meanchey dump now college grad living in Australia

    After finishing her foundational studies at Trinity College and earning a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Melbourne in 2022, Ron Sophy, a girl who once lived at the Stung Meanchey garbage dump and scavenged for things to sell, is now working at a private

  • Ministry using ChatGPT AI to ‘ease workload’; Khmer version planned

    The Digital Government Committee is planning to make a Khmer language version of popular artificial intelligence (AI) technology ChatGPT available to the public in the near future, following extensive testing. On March 9, the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications revealed that it has been using the

  • Wat Phnom hornbills attract tourists, locals

    Thanks to the arrival of a friendly flock of great hornbills, Hour Rithy, a former aviculturist – or raiser of birds – in Kratie province turned Phnom Penh tuk tuk driver, has seen a partial return to his former profession. He has become something of a guide

  • Ministry orders all schools, public and private, to close for SEA Games

    From April 20 to May 18, all public and private educational institutions will be closed to maintain order and support Cambodia's hosting of the 32nd SEA Games and 12th ASEAN Para Games, said a directive from the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport. Cambodia will host the

  • Almost 9K tourists see equinox sunrise at Angkor Wat

    Nearly 9,000 visitors – including 2,226 international tourists – gathered at Angkor Wat on March 21 to view the spring equinox sunrise, according to a senior official of the Siem Reap provinical tourism department. Ngov Seng Kak, director of the department, said a total of 8,726 people visited Angkor Wat to