Putin seeks cooperation on intercontinental transport line

Source:Global Times Published: 2013-11-27 21:48:01

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Russian President Vladimir Putin's state visit to South Korea in mid-November made him the first leader among the four major powers - the US, China, Japan and Russia - to visit Seoul as part of Park Geun-hye's diplomatic efforts since she assumed office in February.

Apart from talks on the nuclear standoff in North Korea, the peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula, and economic and cultural exchanges between the two countries, Putin and Park also made the long-discussed ambitious railway project via the North and through to Europe a top priority on the agenda, given the completion of the renovation of the 54-kilometer-long Rajin-Khasan rail in September.

Russia is actually trying to make its own "pivot" to Asia by inching closer to the goal of becoming a major hub between East Asia and Europe by connecting the Trans-Korean Railway to the Trans-Siberian Railway, along which a gas pipeline and a three-way power line are also on the agenda for construction.

Putin has been striving to revive Russia's Far East, which is suffering from a depressed economy and a declining population. Integrating the region with the dynamic rest of Northeast Asia is a key way to boost Russia's economy. At least for now, the Kremlin is just focusing on economic gains via the railways, without an intention to counterbalance the White House with its "pivot to Asia" strategy as many media outlets have reported.

Russia has abundant natural resources, and 60 percent of the government budget comes from oil and natural gas revenue. However, their prices have fallen sharply because of the shale gas revolution in North America and Europe, compelling Moscow to find a market to sell the resources.

Meanwhile, South Korea and Japan, which lack natural resources and rely on imports from Qatar and the rest of the Middle East, have the incentive to purchase oil and gas as well as related products.

Russia may seek to play a more significant role in shaping the regional order in the Asia-Pacific Region. Its history, population, and size of territory endow it with every potential to regain its position as a great power with an increase in security and diplomatic leverage in the strategic region.

The Korean Peninsula will also witness far more satisfactory outcomes than expected from reunifying the Trans-Korean Railway which is designed to reach Busan, the largest port of South Korea. A rail route through to Europe will not only provide a fast and secure way to transport resources and goods, but also help ease escalated inter-Korean tensions, thereby promoting peace and stability on the peninsula.

If the railroad is completed as desired, Northeast Asia as a whole will become the economic center of the world since Beijing, Tokyo and Seoul account for about a quarter of the global economy. By then, China's northeastern provinces will have an outlet to the outside world, and Japan and South Korea will be able to export their advanced technologies and goods to Europe to further boost economic development.

North Korea is likely to become the biggest beneficiary of the ambitious plan, because the country will become a transportation hub connecting the surrounding powers given its important geographical location. Its neighbors are willing to invest in constructing airports, seaports and other facilities to spur local development.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has proposed the "Byungjin line" calling for simultaneous nuclear and economic development. But translating this plan into reality and fostering that level of global cooperation would be difficult, and would require massively increased levels of cooperation on the Korean Peninsula.

Economic cooperation via an interconnecting rail route from South Korea to Europe would be significant for Northeast Asia in not only facilitating the peaceful process on the Korean Peninsula, but also prompting regional stakeholders to settle territorial disputes and overcome historical grudges.

The article was compiled by Global Times reporter Wang Xiaonan, based on an interview with Hahm Chai-bong, president of the Asan Institute for Policy Studies based in South Korea. wangxiaonan@globaltimes.com.cn

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