Monday, October 31, 2005

After Feeding the 5,000, Do We Now Clothe Them?
North Korea at a meeting of the Inter-Korean Economic Cooperation Committee on Friday asked the South to provide it with raw materials for 60 million pairs of shoes, 2 million formal suits (30,000 tons) and 200 million bars of soap (20,000 tons). That is enough to wash and dress the North’s entire population of 23 million. In return, Pyongyang proposes to let us mine its underground resources and take minerals -- not much of a deal, since Seoul has to supply all the mining and transport equipment.
So it really is a demand for aid, and a preposterous and potentially bottomless one. The rice and fertilizer the South supplied this year alone are worth over W1.4 trillion (US$1.4 billion), and like the rice, once you start giving the clothes and shoes, you have to keep giving them year after year. Having handed the responsibility of feeding its people to the South, North Korea now also wants us to clothe them, and if anything is to come of the nuclear arms negotiations, we have to supply their electricity. Maybe next time they will ask us to build their houses.

Given the plight of the North Koreans, we have no choice but to increase our aid. But this cycle of outrageous demands from Pyongyang and meek acquiescence from Seoul has to stop. The North presented the list of additional demands on the day the Inter-Korean Economic Cooperation Office opened in the border city of Kaesong. The office is there to improve the efficiency of inter-Korean economic cooperation, not as a letterbox where the North can leave demands for handouts.

By inter-Korean economic cooperation, meanwhile, we mean improved economic ties predicated on the North learning the rudiments of the market economy, with an element of economic aid thrown in. But if Pyongyang thinks it can get whatever it wants by leaning on Seoul, it would rip out the carpet from under the feet of the private sector.
The government is oddly reluctant to make details of the latest North Korean request public, citing “pending negotiations.” But this matter is too big for the government to try and sit out. It must disclose every detail of the negotiation so that a comprehensive debate can take place here at home on the scale, methods and effect of more aid to the North.


And they wonder why North Korea keeps asking for more and more....

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