For the first time since early 2008, the South Korean government today sent food aid to North Korea in what some see as a big step toward easing tensions between the two countries. Freighters carrying 5,000 tons of rice and 3 million cups of instant noodles are expected to arrive in China later this week; from there, the food will be trucked into North Korea, the New York Times reports. As part of an $8.5 million aid package formalized last month, cement and medicines will also be sent in December.
“The food aid is a small gift, and it’s purely humanitarian aid,” says an expert on North Korea. “What is important is not the amount, but that North Korea accepted it.” North Korea is suffering food shortages and malnourishment, and analysts believe that is why the country has opened up diplomatic relations with South Korea, but some fear government-to-government food aid will mean that only political VIPs will receive the food.