Moon appears to be more supportive of the U.S. policy to pressure the North Korean government into giving up its nuclear program. Yet his government still plans to send $8 million in humanitarian aid to the North.
Baik Tae-hyun is with the South Korean Unification Ministry. On Monday, he said the political situation would not stop South Korea from sending aid for children, pregnant women and some social groups.
Moon Jae-in is a former human rights lawyer. At the start of his presidency in May 2017, he tried to balance economic actions against North Korea with aid to that country. His hope was to lessen conflict between the two Koreas over time.
However, North Korea carried out its sixth nuclear test earlier this month. Since then, the Moon administration has given signs it would more fully support U.S. President Donald Trump's "maximum pressure" strategy toward the North. The policy combines economic sanctions and the threat of military action to try to force North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons.
President Moon has expressed support for the latest United Nations or UN sanctions against North Korea. U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley said those measures cut "90 percent of trade and 30 percent of oil" imports to North Korea. Moon also tried to get Russian President Vladimir Putin to support a total oil embargo on North Korea. But neither Russia nor China were willing to support such a measure.
After North Korea fired a ballistic missile over Japan last Friday, Moon said negotiation with Pyongyang is impossible if things continue this way.
On Monday, Moon said his government wants to give North Korea "powerful punishment" to make it clear that the North has "no other choice but to give up its nuclear weapons and missiles."
President Moon is now prioritizing support for the U.S. strategy toward North Korea. But experts say he still wants to find a long-term peaceful solution to the nuclear crisis, which is also a goal for the Trump administration.
"It is not either-or, but both countries need to achieve both goals," said Bong Young-shik, a North Korean expert with the Yonsei University Institute for North Korean Studies in Seoul.
The Unification Ministry defended its humanitarian aid plan as "separate from sanctions and pressure" and talked of the need to help North Koreans who already live in poverty.
South Korea plans to donate $4.5 million to help the World Food Program provide food to North Korean hospitals. And, it will give $3.5 million to the United Nations Children's Fund for medicine and nutrition to help children and pregnant women.
These donations to UN agencies would restart South Korean humanitarian aid to the North. The aid was suspended in 2016 after North Korea's fourth nuclear test. The North Korean government rejected earlier offers of assistance and cooperation from Seoul.
The Moon administration noted that the U.S. and Russia provided millions of dollars in the last year for aid to North Korea through the same U.N. agencies.
But Yoshihide Suga, Japan's chief cabinet secretary, said last week that giving aid to North Korea could weaken international efforts to pressure the North.
Moon's critics say the aid will lessen the effect of the sanctions and help to stabilize the Kim government as it continues to develop nuclear weapons.
Ahn Chan-il is an expert with the World Institute for North Korean Studies in Seoul. He fled to South Korea from the North almost 40 years ago.
Ahn said, "South Korea's decision to send humanitarian aid to North Korea is nothing different from sending medication for casualties to an enemy country."
South Korean opposition parties also criticized the timing of the aid announcement last week, just after international sanctions began.
There are also concerns that President Trump will again be critical of President Moon's aid plan. Trump recently called Moon's aid approach unworkable "appeasement."
I'm Jill Robbins. And I'm Alice Bryant.