Kim Jong-il gets aid offer from South Korea after coming up empty on China trip

South Korea pledged $8.4 million in humanitarian aid Tuesday. Kim Jong-il apparently procured little aid from China on his recent visit.

Jo Yong-Hak/Reuters
Truck drivers prepare to leave for North Korea after they loaded sacks of flour on their trucks at a parking lot of Imjingak pavilion near the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas in Paju, about 34 miles north of Seoul, August 27.

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In its first offer to North Korea since the sinking of the Cheonan Navy ship, South Korea has pledged billions of dollars in humanitarian aid to help North Korean flooding victims.

Yonhap News Agency reported today that South Korea on Tuesday pledged $8.4 billion to North Korea, where flash flooding in August displaced tens of thousands of people along the Korea-China border.

The Red Cross puts the death toll from the flooding at 14, though South Korean aid group Good Friends says that 32 people have died, according to Yonhap. The Seoul-based news agency also reported that Pyongyang has yet to respond to the aid offer, but South Korea is preparing the shipment in anticipation of its acceptance.

In mid-May, South Korea froze all government funds for North Korea, just days before an international investigation found that the Cheonan warship was sunk by a North Korean torpedo.

Chinese state-run news agency Xinhua reported that the new aid offer is "a means to defuse tension on the divided peninsula."

North Korea may have few alternatives but to accept the aid from Seoul, as The Chosun Ilbo reported that Kim Jong-il failed to procure significant aid from China despite his trip there last week. A South Korean official told Seoul-based daily that this was the second time this year that North Korea had been unable to drum up Chinese aid, the first being in May. But the August flooding has particularly underscored the latest episode:

This seems to mean that the North can get economic benefits only by cooperating with China in a development project for the three northeastern Chinese provinces and giving it access to the Rajin-Sonbong Port.

A North Korean defector said North Koreans who have been hit by devastating floods had apparently expected to hear good news about free food aid when they heard news reports about Kim's China trip, "but the North Korean media didn't mention anything about aid. This means whatever gift Kim received fell far short of the North Korean people's expectations."

Agence France-Presse reported today that the Good Friends relief group says flooding may also be causing new doubt about the succession of Kim Jong-il's son, Kim Jong-un, which was ostensibly the reason for Kim's trip to China. The director of Good Friends, Lee Seung-Yong, said public suffering because of the country's financial and food woes may undermine party support for succession, especially as Kim Jong-un is believed to be largely inexperienced.

"Ordinary people in the country are not interested in the father-to-son transfer of power. They think their living standards will not improve even if the son inherits power," Mr. Lee told AFP, and the Good Friends newsletter quoted a North Korean party official as saying that "it's difficult for senior party officials to nod their consent if the inexperienced son is upheld as the next leader only because of his family line."

Despite the apparent lack of financial payoff for North Korea, Kim's visit to China does appear to have reinforced the military ties between the two nations. The Mainichi Daily News reports that North Korea's No. 2 leader Kim Yong-nam, after a meeting with Chinese military officials, pledged deeper military cooperation with Beijing.

It is unclear what Kim's visit might mean for the resumption of six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear weapons, reported Japanese daily The Asahi Shinbun, as state media outlets in China and North Korea have each been pushing their government's agenda.

While "Beijing emphasized that North Korean leader Kim Jong-il said his country hopes for an early resumption of six-party talks on Pyongyang's nuclear program," The Asahi Shinbun reported today, "North Korean media made no mention of such a promise during Kim's recent visit to China, instead stressing elements concerning the succession of power from Kim to his third son, Jong-un."

Chinese President Hu Jintao went out of his way to meet Kim in Changchun in northeastern China, apparently to win a North Korean promise to seek an early resumption of the six-party talks.

During Friday's summit with Kim, Hu said China supports North Korea's efforts to stabilize the Korean Peninsula, according to Xinhua.

However, South Korea doubted the sincerity of Kim's reported promise.

"We cannot accept the remark as it is," a South Korean government official said.

South Korean officials remain skeptical of Kim's interest, noting that Kim has repeatedly insisted on direct talks between Washington and Pyongyang as a precondition.

The Christian Science Monitor reports that both the US and Japan, another member of the six-party talks, appear unwilling to return to the bargaining table without improvement in North Korea's behavior. Indeed, the US enacted new sanctions against North Korea on Monday, targeting illegal activity by Pyongyang.

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