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“Green Détente” on the Korean Peninsula?

hungry kim jong un

Newly-elected South Korean President Park Geun-hye is considering a “green détente” with Pyongyang. North Korea has the world’s third-highest deforestation rate, in large part because during the 1990s it clear-cut its forests to make way for farmland. But clear-cut land leads to heavy erosion, and much of North Korea’s topsoil has washed off, making it even more difficult for the country to feed its citizens.

So Seoul is considering offering reforestation assistance as a way of warming relations, the Financial Times reports:

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]

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  • Happycrow

    Wouldn’t reforestation inherently involve surveying? Are the Norks savvy enough to realize that surveying of this sort would be irrelevant compared to the satellite data the ROKs already possess?
    It’s a thin hope, but in this region, thin far outweighs none.
    -Russ in Texas

    • Jamie Horgan

      In the past, South Korea has offered to send seedlings to North Korea. They’ve also offered to provide forestry expertise. As you point out, it’s not hard to imagine a paranoid North Korean rejection of the forestry expertise on the grounds of protecting state secrets. But seedlings might be an innocuous enough gift. We’ll see what President Park’s administration comes up with later this week.

      • bigfire

        The seedling might have spy gear in it. Never ever underestimate the power of stupidity.

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