SEOUL, July 12 (UPI) -- As Pyongyang continues to struggle with economic difficulties worsened by a prolonged COVID-19 lockdown, a North Korean official accused the United States of using humanitarian assistance programs as a means of exerting political and economic influence over recipient countries.
Senior researcher Kang Hyon Chol made the remarks in an article posted Sunday on the North Korean foreign ministry website.
"In actual practice, many countries have undergone bitter tastes as a result of pinning much hope on the American 'aid' and 'humanitarian assistance,'" Kang wrote.
The United States uses claims of human rights violations as a means of withholding assistance, the essay claimed, citing examples including the suspension of $1 billion in aid to Afghanistan in 2020 after rival leaders failed to form a new government.
"This vividly reveals that the American ulterior intention of linking 'humanitarian assistance' with 'human rights issue' is to legitimize their pressure on the sovereign states and achieve their sinister political scheme," Kang wrote.
The article comes after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un publicly slammed senior officials last month for mishandling the COVID-19 pandemic and causing a "great crisis," which was left unspecified.
North Korea maintains that it has had no COVID-19 cases, although many outside experts have questioned that claim.
Pyongyang has rejected offers of the AstraZeneca vaccine that was intended to be delivered through the COVAX facility, according to a report by a South Korean state-run think tank last week.
North Korea had been slated to receive nearly 2 million doses from the global vaccine sharing facility but has expressed concerns about the safety of the AstraZeneca vaccine. The country also appears reluctant to receive Chinese-made vaccines due to efficacy questions, according to the report from the Institute for National Security Strategy, which is associated with South Korea's spy agency.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in said last month that he would push for providing North Korea with vaccines, and Seoul has pointed to humanitarian aid as a means of kickstarting stalled relations with Pyongyang.
The United States has not officially announced any vaccine plans for North Korea, although a May report from CNN cited Biden administration officials as saying they were open to sharing doses if Pyongyang requested it.
North Korea's foreign ministry also criticized humanitarian aid last week, but Sunday's article by Kang was targeted specifically at the United States.
Kang claimed that unnamed analysts and international media outlets were also criticizing Washington, calling its humanitarian assistance "a political tool for subordinating other countries politically and economically, and [commenting that] the U.S. is raking in money a dozen times high in return for its trivial 'aid.'"
"Humanitarian assistance should, under no circumstances, be abused for sinister political purpose," Kang added.