Beijing’s cooperation with Seoul, Pyongyang in rail project key to connecting peninsula to wider world

By Hu Weijia Source:Global Times Published: 2018/11/26 20:33:39

China can provide strong support for a joint survey of the inter-Korean railway if needed. The project is likely to be a good starting point in promoting economic integration. However, we need to avoid excessive optimism, as there are challenges ahead.

North and South Korea recently received sanctions exemptions from the UN Security Council for a survey on connecting their respective railways. It is good news for not only the Korean Peninsula but also Northeast Asia. If South Korea has rail connections to North Korea, Seoul could be added to a railway network directly linking China, Russia and Mongolia. The planned railway system will accelerate cargo shipments within Northeast Asia, and it could be more economical than sea or air transport.

South Korea deserves applause for its efforts in pushing the inter-Korean railway. Seoul has showed greater sincerity and courage than anticipated. Although the US has an important stake in resolving the Korean Peninsula issue, North and South Korea are the main protagonists in the story of the Korean Peninsula. Seoul's determination, as showed by the railway project, is a strong signal that the peninsula situation is not as bad as people thought, and things are developing in a good direction.

The railway project is a good chance to promote regional economic integration, and China is willing to provide all necessary assistance. Earlier this year, South Korea proposed setting up a railway community that includes China as Seoul tries to make the rail project a reality. China will do its part to help the peninsula upgrade its railway system.

There will still be some technical difficulties when North and South Korea rebuild their train connection and integrate themselves into the Asian railway network.

For instance, North Korea may have to make a deal with other countries on track gauges to achieve unification. If Pyongyang wants to build a new railway line that meets international standards, the backward economy may face severe challenges in technology, finance, and skilled workers. One inevitable option is that the country may seek cooperation with its partners to upgrade its infrastructure.

China has accumulated valuable experience in railway technologies that can perhaps be used to help North Korea. Pyongyang may be less satisfied with merely serving as a transit country for South Korea-made exports to China; instead, the country may hope the railway project becomes a starting point for its industrial modernization. Efforts to enhance cooperation with China over the Belt and Road initiative (BRI) will help Pyongyang meet its goals. The potential for economic cooperation between the two countries under the BRI is big, and they should seize the opportunity.

The author is a reporter with the Global Times.


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