“If North Korea tests a nuclear weapon, humanitarian aid?” War of the National Defense Commission

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‘Will North Korea provide humanitarian aid even if it tests a nuclear weapon?’

The plenary session of the National Assembly’s National Defense Committee held this morning was opened with sharp criticism from the opposition that ‘the Ministry of National Defense had been hit first.’ This is because the government cut the defense budget by 1 trillion won while drafting an additional supplementary budget this year.

Min Hong-cheol, chairman of the National Defense Commission, also emphasized that “it is regrettable that the budget directly related to the welfare of the soldiers, such as the cost of constructing the barracks dormitory and restaurants, and the purchase of clothes, has been cut.”

In the midst of this, lawmakers from the ruling and opposition parties exchanged word of mouth over a ‘remark’ by Defense Minister Lee Jong-seop. It started with a question from Rep. Ha Tae-kyung, a member of the People’s Power, regarding support for North Korea’s Corona virus.

(Subsequent questions and answers are transcribed from what the reporter listened to and transcribed at the meeting.)

-Ha Tae-kyung/Rep. of People’s Power: The Ministry of National Defense also supports North Korea for coronavirus humanitarian aid, and if North Korea accepts it, don’t you oppose our support?

-Lee Jong-seop/Minister of Defense: I don’t think the Ministry of National Defense has any reason to oppose it. It is reported that if there is a need to be supported by the military if it is decided at the government level, there are areas in which the Ministry of National Defense can do such as support means and methods…

-Ha Tae-kyung / People’s Power Rep.: If North Korea conducts a nuclear test, public opinion and public perception of North Korea will deteriorate considerably, or it will not get better. Even in such a situation, yesterday the president said that he would pursue humanitarian aid regardless of changes in North Korea’s situation, but would the Ministry of National Defense not object to humanitarian aid even if it conducts a nuclear test?

-Jongseop Lee/Minister of National Defense: I think it would be better to look at that part from a different perspective. In other words, even in the Geneva Agreement, even if we are the enemy, we are supposed to provide treatment and other things. If you think in that dimension, I think you can see it differently.

-Ha Tae-kyung/Rep. of People’s Power: The enemy must also be treated in a humanitarian situation, so can it be understood like this that even a nuclear test does not change the principle of humanitarian aid?

-Lee Jong-seop/Minister of National Defense: Yes, I think you can look at it that way.

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Depending on the interpretation, Minister Lee Jong-seop’s response could be interpreted as meaning ‘even if North Korea conducts its 7th nuclear test, humanitarian aid should be provided’. It may be seen as a principled answer, but it is also true that the position of the military authorities, which defined North Korea’s ballistic missile launch on the 12th as “a serious provocation that undermines the peace and stability of the international community,” seems quite different from the position of the military authorities.

‘Did the North Korea policy change?’

Rep. Hong Young-pyo of the Democratic Party of Korea also criticized this, saying, ‘Has the North Korea policy changed?’ It was a statement that seemed to be conscious of the fact that the current ruling party, People’s Power, had criticized the past Democratic government’s humanitarian aid for North Korea as ‘spread’.

-Hong Young-pyo/Rep. Minjoo Party: You said that you would provide humanitarian aid even if North Korea tests its 7th nuclear weapon. Is that the new government policy?

-Lee Jong-seop/Minister of National Defense: Accurate policy decisions should be made at the national defense, foreign affairs, unification, and security fields, and at the pan-government level, but I think it is correct at the level of the Ministry of National Defense.

-Hong Young-pyo/Member of the Democratic Party of Korea: Don’t change your mind, it’s a very policy change. Moreover, it is a statement that symbolizes security and North Korea policy, as it is the new government’s view of security.

Rep. Dong-min Dong, a secretary of the National Assembly’s National Defense Committee, also pointed out that ‘humanitarian aid is an area that belongs to basic common sense’.

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-Dongmin Gi/Rep. Minjoo Party: Even if North Korea carries out an additional nuclear test, the policy of humanitarian aid will not change. Is this your personal opinion or the government’s opinion?

-Lee Jong-seop/Minister of Defense: The government has not made a decision on that position, yet.

-Dong-Min Ki/Member of the Democratic Party of Korea: Minister, did you say this with the idea that it is an area that belongs to basic common sense? I hope that common sense is common sense of all the people, common sense of those in power.

In the ensuing question, Rep. Shin Won-sik, a former general, mentioned the background in which humanitarian aid did not go smoothly in the past, and even showed support for Lee, who was on the defensive.

-Rep. Won-sik Shin/People’s Power: We had disagreements with North Korea and the international community about humanitarian aid because of the transparency of distribution, and humanitarian aid at its peak. Even if we provide humanitarian assistance on this issue regardless of the situation, are we providing support for Kim Jong-un or the people of North Korea?

-Lee Jong-seop/Minister of National Defense: We are supporting the people of North Korea.

-Rep. Won-sik Shin/People’s Strength: Due to the nature of the North Korean system, there must be certainty that it will return to the people.

Of course, with this remark alone from Minister Lee Jong-seop, it is impossible to say with certainty whether the government will provide humanitarian aid such as vaccines and quarantine supplies, even if North Korea proceeds with its 7th nuclear test. However, in his address to the National Assembly yesterday, President Yoon Seok-yeol emphasized that “in regards to humanitarian aid, we have repeatedly expressed our intention to open it up at any time, without any political or military considerations in inter-Korean relations.”

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