Beijing - The United States and North Korea have began talks today in Beijing on US food aid shipments to the North in exchange for a moratorium on the latter's nuclear programme and long-range missile testing. Meanwhile, South Korea said it would like to see China serve as a "catalyst" for the peaceful reunification of the two Koreas.
US special envoy Robert King said the talks were needed to ensure the proper distribution of the food, meant for a million North Koreans. The aid programme, which will focus on certain groups such as children, pregnant women and the elderly, is set to provide 240,000 tonnes of food. It had been suspended in 2009.
"The food nutrition assistance programme that we are here to talk about is a complicated programme, and we need to work out the details in terms of how we are going to carry that programme out," King said.
The danger is that Pyongyang might receive the food on the Chinese border and distribute it as it sees fit, as it has done before. In line with the militarist ideology of the ruling Kim family, soldiers get food first, something the United Stated rejects.
North Korea is one of the poorest countries in the world. The disastrous economic and military policies pursued by the dictatorship have brought the country to the brink of famine. Although accurate figures are lacking, one in two North Koreans are believed to live with less than a dollar a day, this according to some estimates.
The fact that talks are held in Beijing, the same venue for the discussion that led to the nuclear moratorium, are a sign that China wants peace on the Korean Peninsula.
For a long time, the mainland was North Korea's main backer. In recent years however, Beijing has become increasingly irritated at the military provocations ordered by the late Kim Jong-il.
For his part, South Korea's Deputy Unification Minister Kim Chun-sig said he hoped to see China take on a bigger role.
"As to China's role in Korean unification ... first of all peace must be maintained on the Korean Peninsula, and the homogeneity of the Koreas must be promoted through exchanges and co-operation. I hope China can serve as a catalyst to this process," he said.
A "unified Korean Peninsula will be better able to maintain peace and stability in the East and Northeast Asian region, which is conducive and serves the interests, I believe, of China."