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(LEAD) China willing to offer food aid to N. Korea over drought

All Headlines 17:42 June 18, 2015

(ATTN: UPDATES throughout with fresh quotes, details)

BEIJING, June 18 (Yonhap) -- China said Thursday that it is willing to offer food aid to North Korea as the reclusive state has been hit by a drought, expressing a rare note of sympathy for its communist ally.

China's foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang made the remarks a day after the North's Korean Central News Agency reported that the country has been suffering from what it calls the worst drought in 100 years, raising concerns about food shortages.

"We express sympathy to North Korea for the serious drought," Lu said, and then asked whether China could provide food aid to North Korea.

"We hope that the government and people of North Korea will tide over the disaster at an early date and the Chinese side is willing to provide assistance at the request of North Korea," Lu said.

The KCNA report said more than 30 percent of rice paddies were "parched" due to the drought.

It is uncommon for North Korea to publicly speak of its potential food shortages and the report suggests that Pyongyang wants help from the outside world.

Earlier this month, South Korea's Unification Ministry warned that North Korea's production of crops could drop by as much as 20 percent this year from last year if the drought continues.

China is North Korea's economic lifeline and diplomatic backer, but their political ties remain strained over the North's defiant pursuit of nuclear weapons.


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