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

Pro-independence group forms political party in Taiwan

The move will unlikely improve cross strait relations. The pro-independence Formosa Alliance formed a political party on July 20, saying that it hoped to field at least 10 candidates in the legislative election next January and give independence-leaning voters an alternative to the current ruling party. The Formosa Alliance will not compete in the 2020 presidential election, said Lo Jen-kuei, a minister in the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan, who was elected chairman of the new party. He said the Formosa Alliance was formed not out of dissatisfaction with the performance of President Tsai Ing-wen but rather to give pro-independence voters a choice other than her Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). In fact, Lo said, it would be a blessing for the Taiwanese people if the DPP won the 2020 presidential election. He said he hoped to see Tsai team up with former Premier William Lai on the DPP pres


By Asia News Network
July 21, 2019

Diplomacy

US urged to comply with WTO ruling

The US, under Trump, has shunned several international organizations. The United States has challenged the authority of the World Trade Organization by ignoring a WTO ruling, and such a move may escalate trade tension with China, experts said on Wednesday. The WTO announced on Tuesday that the revised countervailing measures imposed by the US on imports of certain products from China were inconsistent with WTO laws. However, the US failed to comply with the WTO ruling and accused China of “using State-owned enterprises to subsidize its economy”. The WTO mechanism is what members use to settle trade disputes, and countries in most cases abide by the rulings made by the organization, said Xue Rongjiu, deputy director of the China Society for WTO Studies. “If member economies don’t follow this procedure, the rule-based global multilateral system will be damaged and thr


By China Daily
July 19, 2019

Diplomacy

S. Korea may review military info-sharing pact with Japan

It is unclear how the ongoing trade dispute with Japan has affected the decision. A senior Blue House official said Thursday South Korea will review whether to renew a pact with Japan on sharing military information, if needed, according to a politician here. “For now, (the government) has a position to maintain it. It can be reconsidered in accordance with (relevant) situations,” Chung Eui-yong, director of Cheong Wa Dae’s national security office, was quoted by Rep. Sim Sang-jung, head of the progressive Justice Party, as saying during a closed-door meeting with politicians. Chung, during the meeting at Cheong Wa Dae, briefed the politicians on the government’s response to Japan’s tougher export restrictions against South Korea.Sim told reporters that she raised the issue of the bilateral General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) in the meeting.


By The Korea Herald
July 19, 2019

Diplomacy

Beijing wants implementation of Rohingya repatriation deal

The deal was presumed dead after Myanmar failed to meet certain conditions. Outgoing Chinese Ambassador Zhang Zuo today said Beijing wants implementation of the Bangladesh-Myanmar agreement on Rohingya repatriation. “We want execution of the deal signed between Bangladesh and Myanmar on the repatriation of the Rohingyas,” he said while paying a farewell call on Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina at her official Ganabhaban residence here this afternoon. After the meeting, PM’s Press Secretary Ihsanul Karim briefed reporters. In response, the prime minister said if the repatriation of the forcibly displaced Rohingyas starts, even on a small scale, it will be good for all. The prime minister congratulated the Chinese envoy for successfully completing his tenure in Bangladesh. “The diverse field of activities has given momentum in raising our bilateral relations to a new height,” she said. Referr


By Daily Star
July 19, 2019

Diplomacy

Trump hails arrest of Hafiz Saeed in Pakistan

Both US and India say Saeed played key role in Mumbai terrorist attacks. US President Donald Trump on Wednesday hailed the arrest of Hafiz Muhammad Saeed — chief of the banned Jamaatud Dawa (JuD) — who India and Washington accuse of being the mastermind of the deadly 2008 Mumbai attacks and have declared a global terrorist. Trump, who didn’t name Saeed, said: “After a ten-year search, the so-called ‘mastermind’ of the Mumbai Terror attacks has been arrested in Pakistan. Great pressure has been exerted over the last two years to find him!” Saeed — who has a $10 million US bounty on his head — was taken into custody earlier in the day by counter-terrorism forces in a terror financing case. He has been sent to prison on judicial remand.


By Dawn
July 18, 2019

Diplomacy

US tourism feels trade war pinch

Chinese travel fell 5.7 percent in 2018, its first drop in 15 years.  Travelers from China are seeking alternative destinations amid the trade war with the United States, as travel industry insiders keep a close eye on the decline in the number of those visitors. China is the third-largest source of overseas travel to the US, producing 3.2 million visitors in 2017 and accounting for 8.2 percent of all overseas travel to the country, according to the US Travel Association. Travel is the top US industry export to China, generating a $29.8 billion trade surplus with the country in 2017 and accounting for 19 percent of all exports. In addition, Chinese tourists spend an average of $6,700 per trip, about 50 percent more than the average for international visitors. Chinese travel to the US fell by 5.7 percent last year to 2.9 million visitors, the first fall in 15 years, according to


By China Daily
July 18, 2019