NATIONAL

Two Koreas continue railway cooperation meeting despite bleak outlook

By Jung Min-kyung
  • Published : Aug 9, 2018 - 16:01
  • Updated : Aug 9, 2018 - 16:01
The two Koreas held a meeting to discuss cooperation in modernizing and reconnecting railways across the peninsula, South Korea’s Ministry of Unification said Thursday, amid the US’ increasing efforts to maintain its maximum pressure campaign.

The meeting was held at the Customs, Immigration and Quarantine office at the South Korean side of the border in Paju. The South sent a six-member delegation led by Hwang Sung-gyu, a senior official at the railway bureau of the Korean Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport, and the North dispatched a team of six headed by Kim Chang-sik, vice director of overseas operations at the Ministry of Railways.
 
South and North Korean officials inspect the North Korean side of the Gyeongui Line on July 24. (Yonhap)

The meeting marked the second of its kind since the first joint research team meeting held on July 24 in the North’s border town of Kaesong, after inspecting the North Korean side of the Gyeongui line, which runs across the west coast of the peninsula. The team had previously looked into the Donghae line located on the east coast on July 20.

On Thursday, the two sides were expected to discuss the schedule and other details linked to additional field surveys likely to kick off later this month.

Officials and experts say that the project to reconnect and modernize the railways could lay the groundwork for inter-Korean economic projects, which could expand once sanctions against North Korea are lifted. It is also a key agreement reached between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un at their April 27 summit.

The prospect of an overland route connecting the two Koreas -- and perhaps even beyond the peninsula -- is considered a crucial part of the joint goal of fostering cross-border economic cooperation.

However, amid recent reports of Pyongyang’s sanctions violations -- including growing suspicions of North Korean coal being smuggled into the South under ships of different flags -- critics believe the railway project will now face more obstacles compared to when the plan was first unveiled.

The US State Department said sanctions would not be lifted for the inter-Korean rail project until North Korea fully gives up its nuclear weapons, Voice of America reported Wednesday, citing an unnamed source from the department.

“It’s a message that the US is sending to the South Korean government to uphold the UN sanctions and strengthen its monitoring of sanctions violations on its soil,” said Yang Un-chul, an analyst at South Korea’s Sejong Institute.

Yang added the delay in the US’ lifting of North Korea sanctions would delay the launch of inter-Korean railways connecting the peninsula.

“Modernizing is actually an understatement of what’s to come -- some of the routes included in the project haven’t been used since the (1910-45) Japanese colonial rule of Korea. There’s a long way to go even without the sanctions standing in the way,” he said.

The Moon administration is also seeking to expand the railway system to Russia, based on the cross-border logistics initiative, the Rajin-Khasan Project, which connects Russia’s Khasan and the North’s Rajin port in Rason with South Korea’s port cities.

By Jung Min-kyung (mkjung@heraldcorp.com)