Jessica Setiawan—Staff Write
Just this past month, the South Korean government announced controversial plans to donate a total of $8 million in a humanitarian aid package for North Korea’s malnourished children and pregnant women.
$3.5 million of the donation will fund the United Nations Children’s Fund projects that supply medicine and malnutrition treatments in North Korea. Another $4.5 million of the donation will fund the World Food Program and provide nutritious supplies to North Korean hospitals and day care centers.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, one of United State’s East Asian allies, voiced his disagreement on sending the aid at this dire time, fearing that aid for North Korea could hamper international efforts to pressure Pyongyang.
But the South Korean government only reconfirmed its aid plans, even after North Korea’s successful missile launch in mid-September.
“Will that aid indirectly help the North Korean government to stabilize the country’s economy and allow them to keep provoking other countries?,” said senior and Korean international student Sion Yang, who presented a recent KSP paper on the issue.
Yang believes that the aid was a “well-intentioned act” in response to a pressing humanitarian issue, but her research proved that the current aid systems have not been working out for a number of decades.
Dordt Theology professor Jay Shim theorized that a conflict of interest of different involving nations may be the reason why no aid or negotiation has worked.
“We need to make a distinction between the [North Korean] government and the people,” Shim said.
Using Biblical metaphors, Shim explained that the North Korean government is the oppressor and the North Korean people are the oppressed. Infants, youngsters and women are especially suffering because they’re on the lowest scale of their societal structure. Shim also explained the possible reasoning behind the South Korean government’s decision:
“When a young generation grows up with malnutrition, diseases, or suffering from a period of hunger, like the North Koreans, it will negatively impact the future leaders of the country,” Shim said. “So, it’s much easier economically and politically speaking to support them rather than correcting the problem 20-30 years from now.”
According to Shim, in the 1960s, South Korea was once poorer than the poorest country in Africa, but within the last three decades it has transformed itself from a country receiving international assistance to one giving international assistance.
Now, South Korea has an excess of thousands of tons of rice harvested in the Fall that they are unable to keep, so Shim said they plan to send the rice to those in need in North Korea—killing two birds with one stone. However, he disagreed with this choice.
“Ethically and religiously speaking it is right to aid them. But unless we have a clear guarantee that the food will be distributed to the people, monetary or food assistance would enrich only the government in a bad way,” Shim said.
So, is there nothing we can do?
Shim proposes that humanitarian aid should not be given on a government level, but instead should come from the church. For example, he said the church played an important role in the union of the East and West Germany in a way that the then-current German government was incapable of doing. Recently, Sim even met an old North Korean defector who had memorized and was able to recite the whole gospel of John to him.
“There are thousands of Christians in North Korea who operate underground. So the church should at least begin a dialogue,” Shim said.