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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on June 11)

2018/06/11 06:56

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Asia-Europe rail link

Inter-Korean cooperation gets a boost

Korea became a full member of the Organization for Cooperation between Railways (OSJD) last week after three failed attempts due to North Korea's opposition. Consisting of 28 countries including China, Russia and North Korea, the OSJD is an international organization for coordinating rail transport between Asia and Europe founded in 1956.

The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport said the OSJD unanimously approved Korea's membership during a ministerial meeting in Kyrgyzstan. North Korea had opposed Korea's application for full OSJD membership since 2015, under the previous Park Geun-hye administration. Becoming a full member requires approval from all member countries.

North Korea appears to have dropped its opposition this year with the improvement of inter-Korean relations after the April 27 summit between President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. The summit produced the Panmunjeom Declaration for establishing permanent peace on the Korean Peninsula, with one of the initiatives being to expedite the joining of railway networks between the two Koreas.

"Changes are happening with the meeting between the leaders of the two Koreas," said Jang Hyeok, head of the North Korean delegation to the OSJD ministerial meeting as he explained the reason for finally approving South Korea's membership this year. North Korea's decision shows Pyongyang is eager to start rail link projects with Seoul.

Gaining full membership of the OSJD is necessary to promote rail connections between South Korea and Europe through North Korea. Membership is expected to provide a big boost for South Korea's push to participate in linking with the Trans-Siberian Railway (TSR) via an inter-Korean rail network. It would also enable South Korea's connection to the TCR (Trans-China Railway) and the TMGR (Trans-Mongolian Railway). Connection to these is expected boost passenger and freight transport between Korea and Europe.

It is too early to expect too much from full OSJD membership. The exciting vision of a Korea-Europe rail link cannot be achieved without first linking the two Koreas by rail.

South Korea's entry into the OSJD should be an impetus for the rail links, and by extension other economic cooperation, between the two Koreas. The two will hold a working-level meeting this month to discuss details of rail cooperation.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un arrived in Singapore Sunday for a summit with U.S. President Donald Trump, June 12. Despite the unpredictable diplomacy with North Korea, the two Koreas should continue to push for the rail link, starting with the Gyeongui Line, which used to link Munsan in Gyeonggi Province with Gaeseong and Shinuiju in North Korea.

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