Park Geun-hye proposes medical aid to North Korea

South Korean President Park Geun-hye speaks during a meeting with global health experts at the presidential Blue House in Seoul.
PHOTO: Reuters

President Park Geun-hye on Friday stressed the need to provide medical assistance to North Korea to tackle infectious illnesses such as tuberculosis and rubella and map out a longer term disease management plan in co-operation with other neighbours.

She also said the two Koreas ought to work together to cope with climate change, natural disasters and other common challenges, urging Pyongyang to respond to Seoul's efforts to foster practical co-operation and private-level exchanges.

"We should explore mid- and long-term solutions on disaster management, starting with providing vaccines and antibiotics to stave off tuberculosis and rubella among North Korean people," Park said during a meeting with civilian members of a presidential panel on unification preparations.

"The two Koreas can contribute to making a more vigorous and safer northeast Asia if they put their heads together for health and medical co-operation, set up a collaboration mechanism on disaster management with China, Japan, Russia, Mongolia and other neighbours, and nurture the related labour force," she added.

The president's remarks follow her pledge to ramp up humanitarian aid to the impoverished country, unveiled during a speech in the German city of Dresden in March 2014.

Last year, the Unification Ministry said it would funnel $13.3 million to help fight acute malnutrition among infants and mothers in the North in partnership with the UN World Food Program and World Health Organisation. The "1,000 days" project is designed to provide health care to some 2.4 million women and their children up to age 2.

It is also in line with Park's ambitious initiative to boost peace, co-operation and trust in northeast Asia, beginning with climate change, antiterrorism and other nonpolitical matters, and ultimately progressing to security partnerships.

During the session, she also introduced Seoul's drive to devise a resolution to better prevent and respond to natural calamities with the communist neighbour such as through joint river management and reforestation, saying the two countries have a "common duty" to keep the peninsula "healthy."

Yet the efforts have been dogged by Pyongyang's aloofness and continuing military and political threats, as well as the administration's unrealistic vision and flip flops on North Korea policy.

"Last year, we put forward various initiatives to open the path for practical inter-Korean co-operation, but North Korea has yet to answer," Park said.

She called for the Kim Jong-un regime to change course and take lessons from Iran and Cuba, the US' old foes that are seeking respectively to put their ties with Washington back on track.

"Those cases show that change and co-operation are the prevailing trend in the international community," the president added.

"We are waiting for North Korea to come to the dialogue table, leaving open the door for talks and co-operation. We should heal the wounds of the division and lay the groundwork for a peaceful unification before it's too late."