Koreas initiate project to restore road, rail links

North and South Korean officials unveiling a Seoul-Pyongyang signboard during a symbolic ground-breaking ceremony for the reconnection of railways and roads at the Panmun railway station in the border city of Kaesong in North Korea.
North and South Korean officials unveiling a Seoul-Pyongyang signboard during a symbolic ground-breaking ceremony for the reconnection of railways and roads at the Panmun railway station in the border city of Kaesong in North Korea.PHOTO: REUTERS

But Seoul cautious as Pyongyang seeks to push through joint projects despite UN sanctions

SEOUL • The two Koreas yesterday held a symbolic ground-breaking ceremony for what they hope will lead to the resumption of road and rail links across the divided peninsula.

A team of almost 100 officials from the South, including the transport and reunification ministers, took a two-hour train ride to attend the ceremony.

Better transport links were among the ice-breaking measures agreed upon by South Korean President Moon Jae-in and the North's leader Kim Jong Un in September.

While the South struck a cautious tone yesterday, the North openly urged it to push through joint projects despite sanctions on Pyongyang.

Seoul said the ceremony was meaningful, and showed that the two were willing to work with each other, but cautioned that it would not herald the start of actual work on reconnecting the Koreas - which remain technically at war after their 1950-1953 conflict ended without a peace treaty.

A South Korean Unification Ministry spokesman described the event as an "expression of a commitment", adding that construction would depend on "progress on the North's denuclearisation and circumstances concerning sanctions".

But the North's top railway official Kim Yun Hyok reiterated Pyongyang's stance that the South stop toeing the United States line on maintaining sanctions on the North until it gives up its nuclear weapons. "If (the South) keeps looking around to check someone's mood and continues wavering, reunification would never be achieved," he said at the ceremony at the Panmun railway station in the North's border city of Kaesong.

 
 
 
 

Moments later, about 10 delegates from both the South and the North lined up along the railway and pulled yellow levers to link up the railway tracks in a symbolic gesture.

There were concerns that the train and other materials brought into the North for the ceremony could breach sanctions imposed on the isolated regime over its nuclear weapons, but the United Nations Security Council reportedly granted a waiver for the event.

The two sides wrapped up their joint railway and road inspections for the projects this month - the first time in years that a South Korean train travelled on North Korean tracks.

The ceremony comes as the US ramps up efforts to convince Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons - a project that appeared to lose steam after the historic summit in Singapore between US President Donald Trump and Mr Kim Jong Un.

Both sides have recently accused each other of acting in bad faith, but on Monday, Mr Trump said that he was looking forward to his second summit with Mr Kim.

Senior officials from Russia, China and Mongolia attended yesterday's ceremony in the hope that the Korean peninsula could one day link up with Europe via the Trans-Siberian Railway, and through China and Mongolia.

But experts said the North's transport infrastructure is so dilapidated that it could take decades and absorb billions of dollars to modernise and connect roads and railways across its borders.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 27, 2018, with the headline 'Koreas initiate project to restore road, rail links'. Print Edition | Subscribe