SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea and the United States are adamant that there will be no food relief for crisis-hit North Korea until it guarantees that all aid will reach the most needy and there is an improvement in ties between the two Koreas.
China, the only ally of the secretive Stalinist state, has also been non-committal on how much food it is providing.
Aid agencies have said food shortages are worsening in the isolated state and a third of children under 5 are malnourished.
A Reuters report published last week detailed worsening conditions in the North Korean province of South Hwanghae, the country’s main rice-producing region.
“China has always done as much as it can to provide help to neighbour North Korea,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said yesterday, without giving details.
While the United States insists its decision to withhold aid is not politically motivated, South Korea said yesterday North Korea must take measures to improve relations that nose-dived last year after two attacks killed 50 South Koreans.
The United States has backed South Korea’s stance, and experts say it is unlikely to restart aid — suspended in 2008 — without its ally’s support.
A source at the South’s Unification Ministry, which deals with inter-Korean affairs, said aid depended on various factors, such as transparency and distribution, the food situation in the North and better relations.
“At the current moment we don’t have any plans to give massive food aid to North Korea, and neither has there been any demand from North Korea,” said the ministry source, who declined to be identified.
South Korea’s Unification Minister Yu Woo-ik told parliament last week he did not think the food situation in the North was “very serious”.
The North’s appeals for food aid have gone largely unanswered by the international community, and only 30 per cent of a UN food target for the country has been met.
The country’s dysfunctional food-distribution system, rising global food prices and sanctions imposed over its nuclear and missile programmes have contributed to what appear to be more serious food shortages in the North. Summer floods and typhoons have compounded the problem.