South Korea’s new government has identified environmental projects as a possible testing ground for co-operation with Pyongyang, in line with President Park Geun-hye’s promise to pursue “trust-based diplomacy with the North”. The early-stage plan, which may allow for the involvement of other nations and organisations, is being drafted by Seoul’s ministry of foreign affairs and will be presented to Ms Park later this week.The plan is effectively a revival of an idea first conceived more than a decade ago, but has languished amid volatile relations between Seoul and Pyongyang. Reforestation, the first stage, would help to address the fragile state of North Korean agriculture, which has undermined the state food distribution system and left about a third of children stunted due to malnutrition.
The Norks will be hard-pressed to accept bilateral assistance given their existential need to oppose the South. Still, if Seoul extends help through a multinational effort, it could ease tensions that have spiked recently.Aid hasn’t been offered yet, but the plan should be finalized later this week. When that happens, the ball will be in North Korea’s court. We’ll see whether it does what’s right for its starving people, or if it rejects this olive branch out of stubbornness and pride. Any country would be grateful for more arable land, and the Norks need it more than anyone. But they’re also the most likely to bite the hand that feeds them.[Kim Jong-Un image courtesy of quickmeme]