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[Editorial] North-South Train Service

Posted May. 15, 2006 03:10,   


South and North Korea agreed two days ago to a trial run between the Gyeongeui and Donghae Lines, the two railroads connecting the South and the North, on May 25. Of the two lines, the operation of the Gyeongeui Line is being resumed 55 years after it was suspended on June 12, 1951 when the Korean War was at its height. Though it is a trial run, the operation of the two railroads is highly significant in terms of inter-Korean reconciliation and cooperation. The two Koreas should endeavor together to prevent it from becoming a one-time event and make the two railroads regularly operated lines.

It is highly likely that Pyongyang agreed on the trial run considering former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung’s visit to the North next month. The relinkage of the Gyeongeui Line is the first project agreed to in the First Inter-Korean Ministerial Talks held right after the June 15 Inter-Korean Summit in 2000; former President Kim has so far expressed his willingness to visit North Korea once again via train.

The question is whether the North accepted the railroad operation purely as a project for promoting logistics. Having finished construction of whole sections of the Gyeongeui Line in December 2002, and even after holding a ceremony to link the railroad tracks in June 2003, North Korea has kept on delaying the trial run. It has not implemented what it agreed to, citing objections from the military. Against such a backdrop, a sudden acceptance from the North is what makes us feel doubtful.

Many experts believe that by cordially receiving former President Kim, the North wants to show off to the world its commitment to putting the June 15 Joint Statement into practice. With the spirit of the June 15 Joint Statement being “to handle things within the nation,” implied in the North Korean move is an intention that the two Koreas should unite as one and counter pressure from the U.S. After all, all this is an extension of a political mindset to take advantage of Kim Dae-jung not only to win more from South Korea, but also to put distance between the South and the U.S.

Equally dubious is that the North agreed on the trial run immediately after South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun’s remark in Mongolia that he would make a lot of concessions to North Korea. So far, the North has taken an appeasing stance every time it needs something—fertilizer, food and pitch for road pavement, to name a few. In this regard, a question on what the South will have to pay should also be solved.

The government should make it clear whether it agreed to provide raw materials needed for promoting the North’s light industries (as some observed) or the “materialistic and institutional aid” that President Roh referred to. Some are already criticizing that the agreement is “a new type of offensive capitalizing on North Korea in the face of the upcoming election.” Only when such suspicions are resolved can the trial run of the railroads be properly appreciated.