Moon’s new plan seeks to rope in North Korea

By Ma Weiying Source:Global Times Published: 2018/2/11 20:33:39

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

The Ministry of Strategy and Finance of South Korea is planning to negotiate details of cooperation projects with China during the finance ministers' meeting scheduled this month. This is another move from Seoul in seeking closer cooperation with Beijing, following the "new economic map for the Korean Peninsula" put forward by the Ministry of Unification and the proposal of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade to dovetail into China's Belt and Road initiative. 

The new economic map was first rolled out by South Korean President Moon Jae-in last July in Berlin. It consists of three economic belts. One is an energy and resource belt along the coast of the Sea of Japan, known as the East Sea in South Korea, which covers Mount Kumgang, Wonsan, and Rason areas. The second strip - the trans-West sea economic belt - will focus on industry, logistics and transportation surrounding the North Korean city of Sinuiju which faces Dandong in Northeast China across the Yalu River. The third is the border peace belt along the demilitarized zone which will contribute to improving eco-environmental and tourist activities between the two Koreas.

In his "Five-year Plan for the Administration of State Affairs," Moon listed the map as a concrete policy design to realize his vision of building an inter-Korean economic community. Though it was brought up not long before, an articulate road map has already taken shape. The map features a cooperation policy of seeking to put the North in motion through cooperation with Northeast China and Russia's Far East.

At the 2017 Eastern Economic Forum in Russia last September, Moon highlighted for the first time the compatibility of Russia's new East Asia policy and South Korea's new northern policy. Boasting the South's cooperation with the North, China, Russia as well as the Eurasian Economic Union, the new northern policy partly overlaps with the new economic map, or to say, it's an expanded version of the map.

In Sino-South Korean economic cooperation, the trade volume between Northeast China and the South makes up a rather low proportion, prompting the Moon administration to divert attention to Northeast China to recover its position as an important trading partner of the South. Moon pledged to ramp up cooperation under the Greater Tumen Initiative and said the success of transnational economic cooperation in Northeast Asia would make Pyongyang recognize the benefit of participation.

Late last year, officials from the Ministry of Strategy and Finance toured Northeast China to study the progress of the Belt and Road initiative and seek cooperation areas. In early 2018, the Blue House released a set of signals that it is willing to collaborate with China in various arenas.

In addition, Seoul is keen to integrate the new economic map into its cooperation framework with Beijing and Moscow. Moon proposed to Russia to build "nine bridges" of cooperation and noted that the Eurasian continent would be connected to the Pacific Ocean once the inter-Korean railroad is linked to the Trans-Siberian Railway. Even though the current situation does not allow the implementation of cooperation projects that have been planned among Seoul, Pyongyang and Moscow, the South should deepen cooperation with Russia to make full preparation for a possible thaw in its ties with the North.

At the second annual meeting of the Board of Governors of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) in mid-2017, Moon conveyed his expectation that the AIIB would endorse the inter-Korean railroad which completes a "land and maritime silk road."

Moon's Pyongyang policy largely inherits the strategies of the Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun administrations in that it underscores working for common prosperity on the Korean Peninsula. Early in his presidential campaign, Moon highlighted a warm engagement with the North as part of his Sunshine Policy. The Ministry of Unification once suggested reopening the Kaesong Industrial Complex, which however, met with objection from the conservative force.

The new economic map is an overall road map for Seoul to launch cooperation with Pyongyang, but faces multitude of obstacles.  The UN sanctions and Seoul's unilateral sanctions on Pyongyang have hindered the Moon administration from fully realizing its vision. That's why Moon hopes to ratchet up cooperation with Northeast China and Russia's Far East, as China and Russia are crucial trading partners of North Korea.

It is foreseeable that South Korea will play a proactive role in China's Belt and Road initiative, especially its northern extension in the Northeast Asian region. Meanwhile, it will strengthen collaboration with Russia's Far East as a breakthrough to draw the new economic map.

The author is assistant research fellow with the Center of Northeast Asian Studies at the Jilin Academy of Social Sciences.


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