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JH Ahn was an NK News contributor based in Seoul. He previously worked as an interpreter for United States Forces Korea.
Conservatives want to “tighten the sanctions,” but progressives have urged Seoul to put aside long-held animosity against Pyongyang and save North Korean lives before it is too late.
“Chosun Ilbo on September 16 has counted over 1000 trucks that have traveled between Hunchun, China to Rajin, North Korea,” conservative Chosun Ilbo wrote an editorial on Monday, criticizing Beijing’s lack of participation in international sanctions against North Korea.
Articles featuring bearing a similar tone were also present in other conservative media such as DongA Ilbo, Seoul Shinmun, and Seoul Economy, while none of the editorials mentioned the North Korea flood.
“It must have driven South Koreans to mixed emotions on the victims of North Korean flood…”
Right-leaning media’s avoidance of the issue was in sharp contrast to publications from the moderate and progressive end of the spectrum, with many publishing editorials arguing for Seoul’s involvement in helping North Korean victims.
“It must have driven South Koreans to mixed emotions on the victims of North Korean flood…,” wrote JoongAng Daily, explaining the dilemma of South Korean sentiment towards the innocent victims of the flood and Kim Jong Un.
An editorial in the centrist Hankook Ilbo urged South Koreans to separate the North Koreans from its government and to provide humanitarian aid to those in dire need.
Progressive media used more direct terms to criticize the current Seoul government’s policy, firmly calling for its involvement in the North’s humanitarian crisis.
“The North Korean government’s attitude of spending the endless amount of resources on nuclear and missile development must be criticized,” The Hankyoreh continued. “However, no matter how much Seoul hates Pyongyang, it is unjust to neglect the North Koreans’ suffering of disaster and starvation.”
Progressive media insisted Seoul should at least allow or to fully support South Korean NGOs to take part in the recovery work in the North. Another progressive outlet, Kyunghyang Shinmun, argued the same.
South Korean President Park Geun-hye last Monday, during a meeting with the heads of three South Korean parties, only emphasized the North’s nuclear threat and not the recent flooding.
“One cannot be neutral about human pain,” said a spokesperson for the party, which holds a majority of seats in the National Assembly, quoting Pope Francis’s speech from his 2014 visit to South Korea.
There are relatively small chances of Seoul providing aid under the current circumstances
The government on Monday made it clear that Seoul sending aid to Pyongyang is unlikely to happen.
“The international principal for providing emergency relief is if only if the relevant country requests the assistance first,” MoU spokesperson Jung Joon-hee said on Monday briefing.
“So far, Pyongyang has not requested such, and I do believe that such request won’t come around in the future. However, even if it makes such request, from what I see, there are relatively small chances of it (Seoul providing aid) under the current circumstances.”
A Seoul-based political pundit said that the ruling party and the president’s silence on this matter come from a breakdown of trust in the North Korean regime after repeated nuclear and missile provocations.
Under such conditions, Seoul may, restrictively and half-heartedly join to provide the aid
“Seoul for around last ten years – since the beginning of President Lee Myung-bak’s term – has been firm that ‘there can be no negotiation without the North’s denuclearization,” Choi Young-il, a professor affiliated with Kyunghee University told NK News.
“Seoul’s trust only got lower after Pyongyang’s fourth and fifth nuclear tests, and it is worried that the North may use the aid from the South to develop its nuclear and missile systems further.”
In Choi’s eyes, Seoul’s aid to the North is unlikely, unless third party or international organizations can accurately and officially provide a detailed list of specific items that are needed for the survival of North Koreans.
“Under such conditions, Seoul may, restrictively and half-heartedly join to provide the aid. But this process may take too much time.”
WHAT DO FORMER RESIDENTS THINK?
The North Korea state-run Rodong Sinmun last week expressed concern that the victims of the flood might have to suffer severely from the upcoming winter season unless the damages are repaired quickly.
“At all cost, and even by pouring the whole of the state’s wealth, we have to make sure that the people from the damaged areas do not suffer from the upcoming brutal coldness,” it read.
Once people are dead, that is it; they remain dead
A former resident of Pyongyang and a veteran reporter based in Seoul strongly urged South Korean involvement, adding that he does not want to see other hundreds of innocent elder and minors dying of hunger in the North.
“Once people are dead, that is it; they remain dead. No matter what, we first have to save those who are suffering from the hunger and sickness. What else is more important than the lives of children?” said Joo, saying it is immoral for the South to neglect the ongoing humanitarian crisis.
A defector who used to live in China-North Korea border region agreed, adding that she has heard of North Korean lives being saved by Seoul’s aid to the North in the past.
“I have not experienced it, but heard from my neighbors who have also suffered from the flood in the region. Unlike the fire – which at least gives you the chance to grab something from your home – flood happens so fast and sweeps away everything,” said Lee.
Featured Image: DPRK Today, edited by NK News