South Korea and the United States say they will provide $6 million and $10 million of food aid to North Korea, respectively, in actions that could help lead to a resolution of the impasse over a high-ranking North Korean defector.
Some people familiar with the situation say that prospects are brightening that the defector, Hwang Jang Yop, will be able to come to Seoul from Beijing, where he has been holed up in the South Korean Consulate seeking asylum since Feb. 12.
But South Korean officials said progress in the negotiations was slow.
“We are neither pessimistic or optimistic,” said a senior government official. He also expressed concern that the death on Wednesday of the Chinese leader, Deng Xiaoping, will delay or otherwise affect the negotiations over Hwang.
South Korea has said it will not publicly discuss details of its negotiations with China, for fear of angering Beijing. But officials here described as “groundless,” a report by the Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan’s largest newspaper, that China and South Korea had already reached an agreement “in principle” to let Hwang leave.
China, which wants to maintain good relations with North and South Korea, has been in a delicate position regarding Hwang and has said resolving the problem would take time.
After first insisting that Hwang had been kidnapped, though, North Korea has now made statements saying he is a “renegade” and implying he could leave. If those public statements truly reflect North Korea’s stance, then China will have found an opening and could move swiftly, some officials said.
South Korean officials insist the question of food aid is not linked to that of Hwang and was under discussion well before his defection. But South Korea’s decision to go ahead with its aid could hasten North Korea’s acceptance of Hwang’s defection, the senior official said.
The food aid appears to be part of a general effort by the North and South to quickly resume programs aimed at improving relations that had been in danger of derailment after Hwang’s request for asylum and the shooting here last Saturday of another prominent defector, Lee Hanyoung, which South Korean officials suspect was carried out by North Korean agents in retaliation for the Hwang defection.
South Korea on Thursday morning announced that it will provide $6 million in assistance to North Korea through the United Nations, up from the $3.2 million it gave last year. The announcement followed one by the United States in Washington on Wednesday that it would donate $10 million, up from $6.2 million last year.