Posted November. 22, 2014 03:20,
Some 40,500 tons of coal from a Russian mine will be imported to South Korea on next Saturday via the North Korean port city of Rason. It marks not only the first pilot transportation of the Rajin-Khasan project among the two Koreas and Russia but also the first outcome of the Park Geun-hye administration`s Eurasia Initiative. Considering that some of the 4 million U.S. dollars South Korea will pay to Russia will be delivered to the North, the deal will lift part of Seoul`s sanctions on Pyongyang.
Seoul`s participation in the Rajin-Khasan project was agreed between South Korean President Park Geun-hye and Russian President Vladimir Putin who visited Korea in November 2013. Under the project, South Korean companies purchase Russia`s stakes in the Russia-North Korea joint venture, "RasonConTrans, to participate in the linking of logistical networks among the two Koreas and Russia. Moscow repaired a 54 kilometer section of the railroad linking the North`s Rajin Port and Russia`s Khasan, and secured the right to use a pier at the North Korean port.
Even though the coal import is a pilot project for testing the economic feasibility of logistics among the three countries, there are not a few uncomfortable issues when it comes to their relationships. Currently, Russia and North Korea are being ostracized in the international community. During a meeting with visiting North Korean envoy Choe Ryong Hae, the North`s No. 2 man in power, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov criticized a U.N. resolution calling for taking the North Korean human rights issue to the International Criminal Court and supported the North`s demand of an unconditional resumption of the six-party talks on Pyongyang`s denuclearization.
The South Korean government claims that using the North`s Rajin Port will cost about 15 percent less than directly importing the coal from Vladivostok. However, there are many challenges to be addressed. Russia does not disclose the fees for using Rajin Port and the Rajin-Khasan railroad. If Seoul hastily invests in the project, it might end up paying higher transportation fees than normal. The possibility cannot be ruled out that the North puts a brake on the project, as it did on the Kaesong Industrial Complex.
One day before the fourth anniversary of the North`s artillery attack on the South Korean frontline island of Yeonpyeong, Pyongyang has yet to show any sign of change. If the North interprets the coal import as a prelude to lifting the May 24 sanctions, it will likely become even more difficult for the South to demand the North`s apologies for the provocations and a promise not to repeat such provocations. The South Korean government should strategically handle the Rajin-Khasan project so that it would help ease tensions on the Korean Peninsula through Russia.