February 1, 2002｜Korean Peninsula
Managing Director, Korea-Japan Export and Import Corporation
DPRK General Secretary Kim Jong Il’s first official activity of 2002 took place on January 5 when he visited the Kim Jong Thae Locomotive Factory. The following day, January 6, he visited the Russian Embassy in the DPRK. It might be seen as unusual for a national leader to visit a foreign embassy at the beginning of the New Year, but this could be considered to be one of the signs demonstrating the close relationship between the DPRK and Russia, together with President Putin’s visit to the DPRK two years ago, Kim Jong Il’s trip to Russia and the announcement of the Moscow Joint Declaration.
The first thing that sprang to mind when observing the activities of these two days was the issue of connecting the Trans-Siberian Railway (TSR) and Trans-Korean Railway (TKR), because the change in their relationship since the Moscow Joint Declaration has been particularly marked in this area.
Apparently, during the visit to Kim Jong Thae Locomotive Factory, issues relating to the latest facilities for production processes and introduction of new technology were emphasized. Although it is not clear whether this dialogue was directly related to the subsequent visit to the Russian embassy, it at least appears certain that issues relating to cooperation were discussed, including the swift realization of the TSR-TKR connection project and railway modernization, reflecting moves to strengthen the relationship between the two countries.
Under the Moscow Joint Declaration, both sides declared that they would “make a public commitment to make every effort in order to ensure that the project for establishing rail transport routes connecting the north and south of the Korean Peninsula, and Russia and Europe gets underway. The project aimed at connecting the railroads of the DPRK and Russia will begin in earnest.” In order to support this proclamation, concrete measures were implemented, including the conclusion of a railroad cooperation agreement between the DPRK and Russia on August 14 and the dispatch of a delegation from the Russian Railroad Ministry in September.
According to the Russian Railroad Ministry, after on-site research conducted by experts in September, a basic plan presupposing the realization of the connection project in a few years was formulated, and progress on a technological plan is being made based on this basic plan.
It happens to be the case that, at the beginning of last September, I had the chance to attend an international meeting held by ERINA in Vladivostok as an observer on the Korean side and I was able to feel at first hand the enthusiasm and positive attitude of those on the Russian side who aimed to realize the connection of the TSR and TKR prior to the dispatch of the Russian Railroad Ministry delegation to the DPRK.
Meanwhile, the ROK side is also greatly interested in the TSR-TKR connection project and it has been reported that the implementation of joint operations between the countries has taken shape with the additional participation of experts from the ROK.
In addition, at the Northeast Asia Economic Conference in Niigata held at the end of January, the Transportation Subcommittee of the Conference Organizing Committee released the “Vision for the Northeast Asia Transportation Corridors“, in which “transportation corridors” relating to the connection of the TSR and TKR were incorporated into the proposed concrete framework.
The connection of the TSR and TKR is of great significance in terms of fostering stability and cooperation as well as conferring mutual benefits, strengthening not only the economic relationship between the DPRK and Russia, but also that between neighboring countries and throughout Northeast Asia as a whole. Furthermore, the project has the potential to be the motive force for future cooperation in Northeast Asia. In that sense, I hope that the project will be realized as soon as possible.
A researcher from the ROK whom I met recently expressed the optimistic view that there is a possibility that significant moves will be seen from next spring, in light of the close relationship between the DPRK and Russia, and the ROK and Russia as far as the realization of the TSR-TKR connection is concerned, as well as the change in the situation with regard to the future relationship on the Korean Peninsula. I hope that his prediction will come to pass.
Establishing mutual understanding and a cooperative relationship between the DPRK, Russia and the ROK is a major precondition for realizing the TSR-TKR connection project, not to mention the gradual accumulation of actual achievements. There is no doubt that coordination between the ROK and the DPRK will progress steadily and practicably against the background of a new framework aimed at strengthening the relationship between the DPRK and Russia. I intend to keep a close eye on future moves.
[Translated by ERINA]