SEOUL, March 24 (Reuters) - North Korean leader Kim Jong-il has sent half a million dollars to aid Korean expatriates in Japan after the devastating earthquake and tsunami, Pyongyang's official news agency said on Thursday.
Decades of tightly controlled economic policy that has seen North Korea channel much of its scarce resources to arms development has left the country acutely short of cash although its leaders continue to live lavishly, according to South Korean news reports. Food is also reportedly scarce.
Japan, formerly Korea's colonial master, is frequently lambasted as a "war monger" in North Korea's state-controlled media along with South Korea and the United States.
"Leader Kim Jong-il sent (a) relief fund of 500,000 U.S. dollars to Korean residents in Japan who suffered from the killer quake and tsunami happened there," KCNA news agency said.
Half a million U.S. dollars is equivalent to the annual average income earned by 520 North Koreans in all of 2009, according to Bank of Korea data.
U.N. sanctions in 2009 imposed for its nuclear and missile tests that defied international warnings have further cut into North Korea's finances, choking off much of its lucrative arms trade.
The North's Red Cross has separately sent $100,000 in disaster relief for its residents in Japan, KCNA said. (Reporting by Jack Kim, editing by Miral Fahmy)
The answer to why is that this money is going to the Korean Zainichi living in Japan. They are the ethnic Koreans living in Japan who remain loyal to North Korea. Their numbers are somewhere in the 600,000 range and they are mostly concentrated in the urban areas of Tokyo and Osaka. More than one hundred years ago colonial Japan annexed the Korean peninsula. Then, for more than fifty years they kidnapped and enslaved Koreans and forced them to relocate to Japan. The Zainichi are the decedents of these former forced laborers, many of whom are third or fourth generation. North Korea financially supports many of their schools and community centers and this relief money is meant for them.
If you do not know about the Korean Zainichi living in Japan, Al Jazeera English's 101 East did an episode about them last year that was quite fascinating. It is worth the watch: