In August, it was reported that Kim Jong-un, successor to Kim Jong-il and the current leader of North Korea, showed signs of progress from an isolated dictatorship to a more open government. On Monday, North Korea agreed to accept aid from South Korea after severe flooding devastated rural areas. North and South Korea have been bitter rivals since their split in 1945, maintaining a luke-warm relationship at best, but they often remain openly hostile with each other.
The floods in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) have destroyed tens of thousands of hectares of crops which are used to sustain the North Korean populace. North Korea does not import foodstuffs, so the loss of 50,000 hectares of crops is a crippling blow for a nation already in the throes of a hunger crisis. Still reeling from a famine in the early 90’s, the North Korean government may be requesting aid to prevent large scale starvation.
Communications between the North and the South have been icy since South Korea’s current president, Lee Myung-bak, assumed office in 2008. A conservative, President Lee cut off aid to the North to pressure Kim Jong-il to dismantle the North Korean nuclear program. The US has also refused aid after evidence of the North’s pursuit of nuclear arms. The UN and other international organizations have continued to aid the DPRK whenever possible, though their aid alone is not enough to sustain the estimated 24 million citizens.
Kim Jong-un has shown signs of being a more open and tolerant leader than his father and, by accepting aid from the South, he continues this trend. President Lee and Kim Jong-un have not had much correspondence, but this aid may act as the olive branch which opens the lines of communication across the demilitarized zone.
However, it is almost certain that if North Korea accepts aid directly from the South Korean government, President Lee may again pressure the North to shut down their nuclear program. This will be the true test of tolerance for Kim Jong-un — whether he reverts to stony silence, or he engages in a forum with his southern neighbor.