Koreas hold talks on linking railways running across border

SEOUL • North and South Korea have held talks on connecting the railways that run across their border, a physical link that would transform the relationship between the two sides of the divided peninsula.

Yesterday's discussions, the first on the issue for 10 years, took place in the truce village of Panmunjom in the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) that divides the two countries.

The two sides agreed to conduct a joint study "at an early date" on modernising the railways that run through their border, Yonhap reported the South's Unification Ministry as saying.

A rail line already exists from Seoul to Pyongyang and on to Sinuiju on the Chinese border, originally built by Japan in the early 20th century.

Linking the two systems - and modernising the North's ageing rail infrastructure - would give trade-dependent South Korea a land route to the markets of China, Russia and on to Europe.

But doing so would represent a fundamental change on the peninsula: There has been no direct civilian communication between the two Koreas since their division was sealed by the 1953 armistice that ended the Korean War - not even post. Despite the diplomatic warming on the peninsula, with summits between the North's leader Kim Jong Un and both the South's President Moon Jae-in and United States President Donald Trump, Pyongyang remains under heavy sanctions over its nuclear and missile programmes.

Any practical steps would become possible only after such measures are eased, South Korea's chief delegate Kim Jeong-ryeol said as he set off for the meeting. "But we can thoroughly research and study various projects we can pursue after the sanctions are lifted," he added.

During an earlier period of rapprochement, the South built a gleaming station at Dorasan, just south of the DMZ, with platforms marked for non-existent services to the North's capital.

On the eastern side of the peninsula, railways could connect South Korea's port city of Busan to Europe via the North and Russia.

Mr Kim and Mr Moon agreed to "adopt practical steps towards the connection" of the railways at their first summit in April.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 27, 2018, with the headline 'Koreas hold talks on linking railways running across border'. Print Edition | Subscribe