Seoul pushes North Korea’s bid to join ADB

FUKUOKA — South Korea on May 12 called on other members of the Asian Development Bank to join it in supporting North Korea’s bid to become a member.

Kang Kyong Shik, South Korea’s deputy prime minister and finance minister, said in his presentation to ADB governors at their annual meeting, currently under way in Fukuoka, that North Korea would benefit from membership in the development institution. “North Korea suffers from chronic shortages of food and material. The ADB membership would improve North Korea’s ability to deal with this precarious situation,” he said.

“More importantly, by becoming a member of the international community, North Korea would end its isolation,” Kang continued, noting that this in itself would be a major contribution to the political and economic stability of Asia. But Japan, which is the ADB’s top donor along with the United States, has maintained a cautious stance toward allowing Pyongyang membership, and ADB officials said that discussion concerning membership could take months, since all 56 current members need to support the bid.

In Tokyo, Vice Foreign Minister Sadayuki Hayashi told a news conference later in the day that there were long-standing problems between Japan and North Korea. The issue of ADB membership should be considered cautiously, keeping in mind all the circumstances surrounding the bilateral relationship, he said.

Tokyo still lacks diplomatic relations with Pyongyang. The government remains reluctant to offer food aid to the Stalinist state, due to suspicions that a number of Japanese citizens have been kidnapped by North Korean agents. Presentations were made by 37 ADB members May 12, with the remaining countries to speak May 13 – the final day of the three-day meeting.

Many of the donor nations pointed to the need for good governance on the part of countries receiving ADB help and the efficient implementation of assistance programs given the increasing scarcity of funds. A number of industrialized nations have become more reluctant in recent years to give financial assistance to developing countries, placing greater priority on the need to reduce their budgetary deficits.

In contrast, developing countries called on the ADB to continue to support their efforts to achieve higher growth, pointing to the fact that millions in Asia live in poverty. Anwar Ibrahim, Malaysia’s deputy prime minister and finance minister, called on the ADB not to give in to pressure from some donors to introduce new lending policies that would harden loans and make it more difficult for developing nations to borrow from the bank.

The United States, represented by Timothy Geithner, senior deputy assistant Treasury secretary, said lending by multilateral development institutions such as the ADB should focus assistance on private-sector development and on countries that make efforts to set up a sound policy environment.