SEOUL — North Korea has stepped up calls for international food aid amid shortages caused by its economic mismanagement and military spending, South Korea’s foreign minister said Thursday.
Kim Sung-Hwan said Pyongyang has recently been making a “full-fledged request” to the international community for food aid because of its “dire economic situation.”
Food production in the impoverished North actually increased last year, Kim told foreign diplomats in Seoul, citing a report by U.N. food agencies. But years of mismanagement of the state-controlled economy, the fallout from a botched currency revaluation in 2009 and heavy military spending meant its people were still going hungry, he said.
South Korea once provided an annual 400,000 tons of rice to its neighbor but this ended in 2008 as relations worsened. Tensions rose further in the past year after Seoul accused Pyongyang of torpedoing a warship and killing 46 sailors in March 2010, a charge it denies.
Last November the North shelled a border island and killed four South Koreans, including civilians.
International irritation at the communist country’s nuclear and missile programs has led to a drop in donations to U.N. food programs. The United States in 2008 pledged 500,000 tonnes of rice but shipments stopped the following year amid questions over distribution transparency.
U.S. special representative for North Korea policy, Stephen Bosworth, said Tuesday the U.S. was assessing the case for a possible resumption but stressed the need for monitoring. Kim said Pyongyang was expected to take a “double-sided tactic” of trying to blame economic failure on international pressure while continuing to appeal for overseas aid. It was seeking to increase external tensions and further tightening controls over its people, he said. Pyongyang heightened regional security fears last November by disclosing an apparently functional uranium enrichment program to visiting U.S. experts.
The disclosure signaled that Pyongyang was “determined to push ahead with its nuclear ambitions,” Kim said, calling it “imperative” to show unified opposition to the program as a breach of U.N. resolutions.