By Koh Byung-joon
SEOUL, Sept. 1 (Yonhap) -- The unification ministry said Tuesday that it requested a 3.1 percent increase in its budget for cooperation projects with North Korea next year despite stalled cross-border exchanges amid chilled relations.
The ministry asked for 1.24 trillion won (US$1.05 billion) in next year's budget for the Inter-Korean Cooperation Fund, up 37.7 billion won from the 1.21 trillion won set aside for this year.
The proposed increase mostly stemmed from the ministry's plans to expand cross-border cooperation in combating infectious diseases, such as the coronavirus, and natural disasters that could affect people on both sides, the ministry said.
The ministry requested the larger amount even though inter-Korean relations have been stalled since the summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and U.S. President Donald Trump ended without a deal in February last year.
The inter-Korean relations chilled further after North Korea blew up a joint liaison office in its border town of Kaesong in June in protest of the sending of anti-Pyongyang leaflets by activists in the South.
Since his inauguration in July, Unification Minister Lee In-young has sought to kick-start inter-Korean relations through "small-scale" trading or exchanges in the humanitarian sector with the North, irrespective of progress in nuclear negotiations.
Of the proposed budget, the ministry said that it set aside 653 billion won or 52.6 percent, for humanitarian cooperation with the North, while earmarking 562.7 billion won or 45.3 percent for cross-border economic cooperation. About 2.1 billion won was allotted for exchange in social and cultural sectors.
The ministry's spending plan is part of the government's 2021 budget proposal endorsed by a Cabinet meeting earlier in the day. It needs to be approved by the National Assembly by year-end.
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