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.


About the Author: ANN’s Board member Mr Zaffar Abbas, Editor of Pakistan’s Dawn has won the 2019 Gwen Ifill Press Freedom Award from the Committee to Protest Journalists.

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

North Korea beefs up self-defense capabilities in military reorganization

The North have been making many changes ahead of talks. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un presided over a meeting of the top military decision-making body to accelerate the development of self-defense capabilities ahead of key events that will decide its national strategy, its state media reported Sunday. Discussions on ways to bolster its military capabilities through organizational restructuring and personnel reshuffle were highlighted during the third expanded meeting of the seventh central military commission of the ruling Workers’ Party. Details on what measures were discussed were not disclosed. “At the meeting, Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un


By Zaffar Abbas
December 23, 2019

Diplomacy

China-US trade deal bullish news for both countries, rest of world

From Chinese state media. State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi said Saturday that the China-US deal on the text of a phase-one economic and trade agreement serves as bullish news for both countries and the rest of the world. Speaking at a joint press conference with Slovenian Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Miro Cerar, Wang said China has, as always, been opposed to settling economic and trade disputes by imposing tariffs as there is no winner in a trade war. China has also rejected the use of unilateral pressure as it violates the rules of the World Trade Organization (WTO), said Wang. He pointed out that following rounds of back-and-forth negotiations, China and the United States have agreed on the wording of a phase-one economic and trade agreement, and the US side has promised to phase out additional tariffs on Chinese products. The agreement demonstrates the spirit


By Esther Ng
December 16, 2019

Diplomacy

Biegun arrives in Seoul amid deadlock in NK-US nuclear talks

Pyongyang says it conducted “another crucial test” at Sohae site. US Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun arrived in Seoul on Sunday for a “close coordination” with allies amid the deadlock in the denuclearization talks with Pyongyang just weeks before the communist regime’s year-end deadline. A day before, North Korea issued statements to announce that it had carried out “another crucial test” at a satellite launching site, warning the United States to “hold off” any action to “rattle” the regime. During his three-day trip here, the US special envoy is expected to meet with officials here to discuss on the


By Zaffar Abbas
December 16, 2019

Diplomacy

Myanmar to be sincere in implementing Rohingya repatriation deal

This according to the Bangladeshi Foreign Minister. Bangladesh expects that Myanmar would be more tolerant towards Rohingyas after facing trial at the International Court of Justice, Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen said today. “My expectation is that Myanmar would be sincere in implementing the bilateral deal that signed with Bangladesh on repatriating Rohingyas from Bangladesh,” he told journalists at his ministry office in Dhaka. “Myanmar has invited me before a case lodged with the International Court of Justice. In response, I told that I would go there when the Rohingyas will go back to Myanmar,” the foreign minister said. “I also invited Myanmar to visit Bangladesh to talk to their Rohingya people and to understand their expectations,” Momen said. Globally it has been established that there was a massive crime committed against the Rohingyas, that was des


By Daily Star
December 16, 2019

Diplomacy

10 US senators criticise Suu Kyi for representing military’s interest

Suu Kyi is in the Hague defending Myanmar from genocide accusations. Ten US Senators have severely criticized Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi for representing the military’s interest before the International Court of Justice and defending the mass atrocities committed against the Rohingyas and other ethnic minorities. “Representing the Burmese military’s interest before The Hague and defending the mass atrocities committed against the Rohingya and other ethnic minorities would undermine what remaining credibility you have before the international community, including in the US Congress,” said a letter to Suu Kyi issued on December 9. The Senators said a defense of the Burmese military at this high-profile international forum is also an affront to the inclusive, multi-cultural and democratic Burma that she claims to champion. They said when Buddhist nationalism is on the rise in


By Daily Star
December 13, 2019

Diplomacy

India under Modi is moving systematically with a supremacist agenda, says PM Imran

Imran Khan made the comments after India passed a controversial citizenship requirement. Prime Minister Imran Khan said on Thursday that India, under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has been moving systematically with a Hindu supremacist agenda. The prime minister was referencing the controversial Citizenship Amendment Bill passed by India’s upper house amid protests on Wednesday. The bill will let the Indian government grant citizenship to millions of illegal immigrants who entered India from three neighbouring countries before 2015 — but not if they are Muslim. Modi’s government — re-elected in May and under pressure over a slowing economy — says Muslims from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan are excluded from the legislation because they do not face discrimination in those countries. Taking to Twitter, Prime Minister I


By Asia News Network
December 13, 2019