CAMBRIDGE, England — Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara does not like Japanese charities sending dog biscuits and old rice to North Korea to feed its hungry people.
What have the people of North Korea done to make Ishihara prefer that they starve to death rather than eat Japanese dog biscuits and old rice? Nothing as far as I can see. What have the babies of North Korea done that so upsets the Japanese government that it will not ship the special Japanese rice that the babies’ mothers there need to wean them on?
I cannot see what they have done, but the hardline stance of the Japanese is leading to a significant growth in North Korean infant mortality.
Many North Korean women in rural areas are so malnourished that they cannot breast-feed their children. The only food that they have been able to wean their babies with is — or used to be — a gruel made from special Japanese rice. The failure of the government of Japan to continue to make this rice available leads to the death of many children.
Japan has not sent any official food aid to North Korea since 2000, when it sent 500,000 tons. It has announced that it has no plans to do so now. The United States has sent 155,000 tons this year but has announced it will send no more despite North Korea’s desperate situation.
Pledges from European countries, the only donors still active, amount to only 33,000 tons, far short of the 512,000 tons requested by the United Nations World Food Program.
This year, the eighth year of the food emergency, the U.N. World Food Program was only able to obtain 70 percent of the total it estimated was needed to provide a basic daily ration for the young, the old and the sick. Three million people went without the rations they needed.
South Korea is also playing politics with the lives of innocent people in the North. They, too, have been cutting back on food aid, and what is worse, fertilizer and other agricultural products that would allow the North to grow more of its own food.
It is unlikely that the North would ever be able to feed its population from its own agriculture sector; there is just too little cultivable fertile land. It could do better, but it needs help, including technical assistance, to make that possible.
Since the U.S. claimed that North Koreans admitted to having a nuclear weapons program two months ago, there is less and less likelihood that such aid will be forthcoming.
Why punish the poor of North Korea for the deeds of their leaders? They did not choose them. They are the victims of that regime more than the Japanese and Americans are.
Unlike Japan, the U.S. has at least said that it will continue humanitarian aid, albeit at lower levels than needed and certainly at lower levels than it could afford. It has vast surpluses of food that it produces behind its walls of protectionist barriers. The same is true for the European Union and China. Using food aid in this way, as an instrument of diplomatic policy, is to turn food aid into a weapon of mass destruction.
Which is more humane, starving the young, the old and the sick by withholding food from them, or bombing them? Bombs at least provide a quick death, not the lingering physical and painful decay into illness and eventual death that hunger and malnutrition brings.
Japanese leaders are withholding food aid because they, and the people of Japan, are upset about the abduction of a handful of Japanese citizens by the North Korean regime. They and the U.S. are also withholding food because of the alleged development of nuclear weapons by North Korea. Is starvation of poor people likely to solve either of these issues? I don’t think so.
The North Korean regime has been happy to develop a business in armaments in competition with the giants of the trade, the U.S. and Britain, while its people have gone cold and hungry over the last eight years. “Dear Leader” Kim Jong Il and his friends have also, if the Americans are to be believed (there is no independent corroboration yet), been happy to use a large share of the country’s income to produce nuclear weapons while babies died of hunger.
The West is happy to sell Kim all the trappings of a luxurious life, for example, the French champagnes and fine wines that he craves. And the Russians and Chinese are happy to entertain him lavishly when he wants to take holidays in their countries.
Why not impose a smart embargo aimed at the rich lifestyles of the leaders? Why not freeze the foreign bank accounts of the leaders? Why not stop cash flows from Japan (from the hundreds of thousands of North Koreans who live there) and South Korea?
Why not close down all North Korean diplomatic missions abroad and suspend its membership of all multilateral organization such as the United Nations and International Maritime Organization?
I am not saying that we should do any of these things. I am just asking you to think about whether it makes sense to starve people who have no influence on their leaders when you can target the lifestyles of those leaders themselves. Dead and starving people are not able to provide much of a political opposition.
Ever tried weaning a baby on dog biscuits? Shame on you, Japan. But even more, shame on you, Gov. Ishihara.
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