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North & South Koreas on a reconnecting drive

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  • Estranged neighbours’  turning friends

By Suresh Somu

Bangkok. 01 January 2019. There are a lot more smiles among the two Koreas.

Just a day after Christmas, there were significant moments to rejoice with a project unveiled between the North and South Korea to reconnect rail and road links severed since the 1950-53 Korean War.

North Korea leader Kim Jong-un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in have moved towards longer-term cooperation. An ambitious project was unveiled to modernise the North and South Korea railways and roads, witnessed by invited officials from China and Russia.

Ironically, the good buddy-buddy bondship comes as a time in the North East region, where Japan was on the spotlight for beefing up its defense capabilities attracting strong backlash from China and South Korea. While such moves could be construed as heightening tensions, on the other hand, it is also reassuring to note that it’s not always about one’s might but solitary.

 “The railway will not only reduce time and space but also the distance between the hearts of the South and North,” South Korean Transport Minister Kim Hyun-mee said at the ceremony. In the same vein, Seoul is wishful that it will link with the Trans-China and Trans-Siberian railways eventually.

And it’ll be dream come true for the Koreans, which provides stronger connectivity and coupled with robust economic growth for both nations, provided it does not come to a standstill.

REALITY CHECK FOR KOREAS

To put into perspective, just to commemorate the ceremony, officials sought approval from the United Nations since it required transporting vehicles across the border to the North Korean border town of Kaesong. And the Koreas cannot inch forward without the lift of US-led sanctions against the North. So, in essence, Washington could squash this high level of optimism if no concrete steps are taken by North Korea to give up its nuclear arsenal.

And notwithstanding that the US has already registered its uneasiness with South Korea that the latter should maintain immense pressure until Kim Jong-un abides to full denuclearization. The South Korea Unification Ministry confirmed that actual construction would be pursued in accordance with progress in the North’s denuclearization and the states of sanctions against the North.

To dial back, US President Donald Trump met North Korean Leader Kim at an unprecedented summit in Singapore in June 12 to discuss the North’s denuclearisation and the easing of sanctions.

Since then, Kim had placed a moratorium on nuclear or long-range missile tests. He has also shut down his country’s only known nuclear test site Punggyeri. However, there is no clarity if his nuclear warheads and delivery missiles had been dismantled.

Now assuming that North Korea has taken constructive steps towards denuclearisation and the project moves forward, it appears that modernising North Korea railways could take decades and will be a massive investment too. Now that would be another milestone for deliberation.

Given that North Korea has repeatedly voiced displeasure about the slow progress in the reconciliatory projects, analysts further noted that South Korea, is in fact, building on existing agreements.

And it will be no surprise if North Korea continues to pressure to make it happen despite sanctions. South Korea’s position of advancing inter-Korean ties may have positive impact on denuclearization too.

As the year draws to an end, optimism continues to latch on the Koreans in terms of project advancement and its one of the several peace gestures agreed between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and liberal South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

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