The recent election of Lee Myung-bak as president of South Korea has marked an end to the Sunshine Policy of his predecessors, which sought to soften Kim Jong-Il's hardline policies in the North by being nice to him. Well, predictably enough, that didn't work. On the other hand, though it's early days yet, Lee's tougher approach hasn't exactly met with stunning success: the North's response has been to step up the rhetoric, and start building more military installations.
Now there's the prospect of a serious food shortage in North Korea. What's Lee to do? Send food aid in the knowledge that it'll be used as the DPRK authorities want it to be used, and may well never reach the intended targets, or watch his ratings plummet as the South see pictures of their fellow Koreans starving to death?
Here's the Washington Post:
This spring on the Korean Peninsula, human rights are on a collision course with hunger.
South Korea's new president, Lee Myung-bak, is asking tough questions about human rights abuses in North Korea -- questions that were all but ignored by his predecessors Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun.
But he is learning that high-minded principles can quickly run amok if your neighbor is an irritable Stalinist state on the brink of a food disaster
Amid worsening shortages that the U.N. World Food Program says may soon become a catastrophe, Lee's government has yet to dispatch large shipments of free food and fertilizer that over the past decade have become an essential crutch for North Korea's crippled economy, helping millions to avoid famine.
"The delay in shipping food and fertilizer could end up hurting the average North Korean," said Kim Am-soo, a research fellow at the Korea Institute for National Unification, a government-financed think tank in Seoul. "It is a very delicate situation, and tension has increased on both sides of the border." [...]
Lee quickly made it clear that South Korea's annual gifts of food and fertilizer for North Korea would now have strings attached. His government wanted to audit distribution to make sure that aid did not go to the North's military.
Inside North Korea, food runs short every year, even in areas where crops are good. And South Korea's decade-old aid program -- this year, 500,000 tons of various kinds of food and enough fertilizer to grow about 900,000 tons of grain -- has become a building block in hunger prevention, international food experts say.
Lee's insistence on accountability happened to coincide with an especially troubled year for the food supply in the North. The World Food Program says staple food prices there have doubled in the past 12 months, as a result of flood-damaged local harvests, soaring world food prices and an unexpected drop in aid from China.
Here in Seoul, there are critics who say that Lee, by preaching human rights to a heavily armed dictatorship, has overplayed his hand and risks a domestic political backlash.
"Lee was not elected to sort out human rights in North Korea, especially when there is a threat of famine," said Andrei Lankov, a professor who specializes in North Korean studies at Kookmin University in Seoul.
"All South Korean presidents have domestic constraints on how hard they can push the North," Lankov said. "Pictures of skeletal Korean children will cause outrage, and bad relations with the North would also hurt economic growth."
As I wrote earlier, with the way the Olympics have been going so far, it'll probably all come to a head sometime in August.