S. Korean pres envisions inter-Korean rail connection by year-end

Source: Maeil Business News Korea / 16 August 2018

South Korean President Moon Jae-in outlined his vision for a train network cutting through North Korea, China and Russia and wants to start with the reconnection of railroads of the two Koreas by the end of the year.

In his address on Wednesday to mark Korea`s 73rd anniversary of liberation from Japanese rule, he unveiled his initiative for “the East Asian Railroad Community” aimed to bring together neighbors China and Japan as well as Russia, Mongolia and the United States as joint partners in the project.

“This community would lay the groundwork for building a broader energy and economic bloc in the region,” he said. “It would be the first step toward creating a peace and security regime in Northeast Asia.”

His initiative is modeled after the steel and coal trading community of six European countries in the wake of World War II that later built up to the European Union.

Rail and road connections had been mentioned in the agreement following the April 27 summit talks between Moon and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

“Our goal is to initiate this project by the year end,” he said.

Moon also proposed creating joint economic zones along the border in the South’s Gyeonggi and Gangwon provinces once military tensions are eased and peace on the peninsula is secured.

The two Koreas had jointly run an industrial park in the North’s border town of Kaesong. Since opening in 2004, the industrial park had employed over 50,000 North Koreans and was an important source of cheap labor for the South and hard foreign currency for the North. South Korea pulled out of the sole surviving joint inter-Korean venture in 2016 after North Korea’s missile and nuclear tests.

Moon projected inter-Korean economic projects to generate more than 170 trillion won ($150.6 billion) over the next 30 years, citing a report by the Korea Institute for International Economic Policy, a state-run think tank. This includes the resumption of the Kaesong industrial park and tourism at the North’s Mount Kumgang, as well as rail connections and development of underground resources.

But none of these projects can take off unless North Korea “completes denuclearization” and peace is ensured, said Moon.

The U.S. State Department in a statement on Monday said South-North relations “cannot advance separately from resolving North Korea’s nuclear program” in response to the announcement that Moon and Kim will meet for their third summit talks in Pyongyang next month.

Moon said he will persuade Kim to take bold steps towards denuclearization and put a formal end to the Korean War that ceased in an armistice in 1953.

A landmark summit between Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump in June had raised cautious hopes for a breakthrough in the nuclear standoff as the two leaders agreed to “work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” But tensions appear to be flaring up again, with National Security Adviser John Bolton arguing last week that North Korea has “not taken the steps we feel are necessary to denuclearize.” He added the economic sanctions against the North would remain in place until the country shows greater progress toward dismantling its nuclear and missile program.

The signing of a peace treaty to replace the armistice that halted the Korean War has been high on Kim’s list of demands. But Washington has said this too would not happen until the North takes concrete action to denuclearize.