South Korea plans to resume humanitarian assistance to North Korea and civilian exchanges to an extent that the move would not compromise international sanctions against Pyongyang, a government official said on Monday.

The government said that it will sternly respond to North Korea's provocations but also does not believe that long-strained inter-Korean ties will help stability on the divided peninsula, Yonhap News Agency reported.

"The government plans to flexibly review (the resumption) of civilian inter-Korean exchanges to the extent that they do not violate international sanctions," Lee Duk-haeng, spokesman at the Ministry of Unification, told a media briefing.

Since President Moon Jae-in took office on May 10, expectations have been high that civilian inter-Korean exchanges would revive as he would seek engagement with Pyongyang.

The government under former President Park Geun-hye said it would continue to provide humanitarian assistance to those vulnerable in North Korea, such as infants and pregnant women. 

But Seoul has suspended almost all civilian inter-Korean exchanges since North Korea conducted its fourth nuclear test in January 2016.

South Korea's announcement came as President Moon on Sunday ordered a "firm response" to North Korea's test-firing of a new intermediate-range ballistic missile, called the Pukguksong-2.

The decision seems to reflect Moon's will to handle humanitarian assistances and exchanges in the non-political sectors separately from geopolitical tensions sparked by Pyongyang's nuclear and missile programmes.

In May 24, 2010, Seoul imposed sanctions banning inter-Korean exchanges to punish North Korea for the torpedoing of a South Korean warship.

In February 2016, Seoul closed down the Kaesong Industrial Complex in the North Korean border city of the same name in response to Pyongyang's nuclear and missile test early last year.

The volume of inter-Korean trade hit a 17-year low of $333 million in 2016, mainly due to the shutdown of the complex.