See More on Facebook

Diplomacy

Inter-Korean railway project now focused more on ‘modernization’

Geopolitical shifts means that modernization rather than re connection is key.


Written by

Updated: December 16, 2018

With the groundbreaking ceremony for modernization and reconnection of inter-Korean railways and roads slated for Dec. 26, similar events held more than a decade ago are being remembered.

But analysts say that with a shift in circumstances surrounding the Korean Peninsula since, the focus has now moved to “modernizing” North Korea’s railway system rather than “reconnecting” sections of cross-border tracks.

“In the early 2000s, it was more about ‘reconnecting’ the railways, but North Korea has shifted its focus now – it seeks to modernize its railway system,” Cho Han-bum, a senior researcher at the Korea Institute for National Unification, said.

Seoul and Pyongyang have discussed trans-Korean rail networks since the first inter-Korean summit in 2000. Following the summit, the South and North each held simultaneous groundbreaking ceremonies separately near the inter-Korean border in 2002, signaling the launch of construction on sections of the cross-border railways that were severed at the end of the 1950-53 Korean War. The railways and roads project was halted in the late 2000s amid heightened border tensions due to the North’s military provocations and pursuit of nuclear weapons.

Another expert pointed out that the main focus of the earlier railway project was to aid inter-Korean economic cooperation projects, referring to how a slew of train test-operations led to the actual operations of trains carrying materials into the now-shuttered Kaesong industrial park. The railway linking the South’s Dorasan Station and Panmun Station in the North’s border town of Kaesong was an active route used to carry materials back and forth across the border from 2007 until border tensions escalated in late 2008.

“At the time, aiding inter-Korean cooperation projects and reconnecting a few sections of the cross-border railway were the two Koreas’ goals,” said Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies.

“But now, with international sanctions layered against North Korea and Pyongyang’s nuclear issues, the railways project in a sense is being used to keep alive the momentum of development of inter-Korean ties,” he added.

North Korea has been expressing avid interest in South Korea’s bullet train system for some time.

Earlier this month, a Cheong Wa Dae official under customary condition of anonymity told reporters that there is a “strong possibility” that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un may ride the KTX bullet train during his visit to the South, as expectations were high that Kim’s Seoul visit would materialize by the end of the year. The official also mentioned Kim’s desire to improve the North’s outdated train system as a reason behind his claim.

Though the South’s presidential office has since toned down its hopes for an end-of-the-year visit, there remains a high chance that Kim could use the bullet train system during his next Seoul visit. Kim promised he would visit Seoul “soon” at his third summit with South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

Kim already vocally expressed his admiration of the South’s railway system during his first summit with Moon in April, referring to his sister’s experience with the train as part of the North’s delegation to the PyeongChang Winter Olympics in February.

Observers believe that the train system could be vital in helping North Korea achieve its goal of economic prosperity, with Kim’s declaration earlier in the year to shift his focus entirely to the economy and away from nuclear weapons. South Korea also sees the railway project as a key that could boost trade and tourism, as it would connect the peninsula with international neighbors such as China and Russia.

Despite the two Koreas’ hopes, experts say the project faces major hurdles at the moment with little progress in US-North Korea nuclear talks coupled with the dire state of North Korea’s train tracks and unstable electricity infrastructure.

Wary of possible sanctions violations, South Korea has been reiterating that the upcoming Dec. 26 ceremony will be more of a symbolic event rather than an actual signal for a launch of construction.

“There are talks about North Korea wanting to adopt the South’s KTX, but with the current state of North Korea’s railway system, it would be more realistic to say that they simply want to improve their regular train system,” said Yang.

The divided Koreas agreed to reconnect and modernize railways along both the east and west coasts of the peninsula in April. The joint inspection for the Gyeongui Line, which runs along the west coast of the peninsula, wrapped up on Dec. 5, while a survey for the Donghae Line along the east coast was to be completed Monday.



Enjoyed this story? Share it.


The Korea Herald
About the Author: The Korea Herald is the nation’s largest English-language daily and the country’s sole member of the Asia News Network.

Eastern Briefings

All you need to know about Asia


Our Eastern Briefings Newsletter presents curated stories from 22 Asian newspapers from South, Southeast and Northeast Asia.

Sign up and stay updated with the latest news.



By providing us with your email address, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms of Service.

View Today's Newsletter Here

Diplomacy

How competing masculinities inform Pak-India escalation

Devaluing the other in gender hierarchies often takes place through feminisation. Last month, tensions reigned high between neighbouring nuclear powers that share an ugly history of separation and bellicosity. Once more, India and Pakistan seemed to be at the brink of war. Airports were shut down, the Line of Control was violated, and de-escalation — especially in the newfound absence of dedicated third-party intervention — looked out of bounds for the most part. War-mongering through media outlets prevailed while fake and selective news circulated in this situation of crisis. Yet, it is baffling — if also not amusing — that even in such delicate moments, rhetoric of ‘putting them in their place’ was omnipresent on both sides. Similarly, a few months ago, when Prime Minister Imran Khan tweeted his disappointment regarding peace talks with India, he chastised that he ha


By Dawn
March 21, 2019

Diplomacy

Moon holds meeting with US intelligence chief in Seoul

The meeting comes after the failed Hanoi summit between Trump and Kim. President Moon Jae-in on Wednesday met with US Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats in Seoul to discuss bilateral issues, Cheong Wa Dae said. According to Cheong Wa Dae spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom, Moon and Coats held an “in-depth and wide ranging discussion about current issues between South Korea and the US.” Coats’ visit is seen as aimed at sharing information and assessment of North Korea following the breakdown of last month’s summit between the two countries. Earlier, a local newspaper reported that Coats arrived at a US air base in Osan, south of Seoul,


By The Korea Herald
March 21, 2019

Diplomacy

Is Kim Jong-un considering ‘new way’?

Post Hanoi summit failure, speculation grows on what new mode of defense may be. Following the failure to reach an agreement at last month’s summit between the US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Hanoi, tension has been building between the two sides, threatening the negotiations that they have built over the past year. While the breakdown of their second meeting did not lead to a war of words, North Korea said it was considering suspending talks with the United States, while Washington accused Pyongyang of “not doing what it needs to do.” The communist leader warned in his New Year’s speech this year he would have to find a new way for defending the North if the US did not keep its promises. As the US appears to have no intention of taking the “commensurate measures” the North seeks for the denuclearization steps it has taken, speculation has grown as to whether


By The Korea Herald
March 20, 2019

Diplomacy

Opinion: Japan must return to being South-east Asia’s top trade partner

Singapore’s Ambassador-at-Large Tommy Koh called on Japan to return to Asean as its top investor, as it was in the 1970s and 1980s. Veteran diplomats jousted at a public forum here over the question of whether Japan is sufficiently invested in South-east Asia, amid the former’s concerns about China’s growing influence in the region. Singapore’s Ambassador-at-Large Tommy Koh called on Japan to return to Asean as its top investor, as it was in the 1970s and 1980s. “You were Asean’s number one trade partner. Now you are number four. You were also number one in foreign direct investments. Now you are not. You have lost so much ground in South-east Asia,” he said.


By The Straits Times
March 20, 2019

Diplomacy

Malaysia detains 13 suspected militants

Six of them were involved in the Marawi siege in the Philippines. Thirteen suspected militants, including six pro-Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) members allegedly involved in the deadly Marawi siege in southern Philippines, have been detained by Malaysian authorities. Malaysia’s national police chief Mohamad Fuzi Harun said 12 Filipinos and a Malaysian were arrested on March 11 and 12 by police’s Counter Terrorism Division, with the help of Special Branch, Sabah police and elite multi-tasking special forces unit 69 Commando. “They were detained for their suspected involvement in several terror groups… either the ASG, Maute combatants or the Royal Sulu Force (RSF),” he said in a statement on Monday (March 18). “Some of them were also involved in giving protection to foreign terrorist fighters who are hiding in Sabah.” The first arrests, the Inspector-Genera


By The Straits Times
March 19, 2019

Diplomacy

Demonization of Huawei will prove to be a political farce

A China Daily editorial looks at the ongoing fracas involving tech giants Huawei. China’s Palace Museum signed an agreement on Friday with Huawei Technologies Co Ltd to promote the use of its 5G telecommunications technology. With the new generation telecoms technology, the Forbidden City, which is the tourist site that welcomes the largest number of visitors in the world each year, will definitely provide state-of-the-art services. Supported by the much faster mobile network, the museum will likely be digitalized to such an extent that visitors thousands of miles away may be able to explore it in virtual reality. And those visiting it in person will be able to learn about the treasures it houses in greater detail with the aid of digital technology. In the past 20 years since the museum started to facilitate its work with digital technology, a lot of information about the cultural relics it preser


By China Daily
March 18, 2019