South Korea’s President suggests cooperation on health with North Korea
During the 101st March 1st Independence Movement Day address, Korean President, Moon Jae-in, said that the lives and health status of people in the Korean peninsula are closely intertwined and cooperation is important to address disasters and climate change. His remarks are understood to be related to the on-going novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak as well as the African swine fever, both of which may have affected North Korea. Following the address, North Korean leader, Kim Jung Un, sent a letter to President Moon addressing South Korea’s efforts to overcome COVID-19.
While a senior official at the Blue House (the President’s Office) said it would be possible to discuss healthcare cooperation through a separate channel, the Ministry of Unification was more cautious. The Ministry of Unification said that while it agrees with the idea of cooperation, South Korea has not received an official request for assistance from North Korea. Offering assistance to North Korea is furthermore challenging, given that the North Korean government claims that their country does not have any cases of COVID-19. The urgency of tackling the virus within South Korea may also make cooperation difficult.
Healthcare cooperation is highlighted in the Ministry of Unification's 2020 work plan (published on March 3, 2020) as a new driver for inter-Korean relations. The work plan says the ministry is committed to cooperating with North Korea on a number of issues including healthcare, environment, disaster prevention, and management. The ministry will also provide humanitarian assistance to marginalized people in North Korea through international organizations such as UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO).