South Korea and North Korea had a ground-breaking ceremony on Wednesday to connect and modernize Gyeongui Line railroad and Donghae roads in Panmun Station in Kaesong. Two heads of state had a symbolic ground-breaking ceremony agreed in the Pyongyang Joint Declaration in September. The ceremony is meaningful in the way that it promises mutual prosperity and economic cooperation of the two Koreas as denuclearization makes progresses even though negotiations between the U.S. and North Korea is at a standstill and the global community is continuing to put sanctions against the North.
The South Korean government is anticipating that progresses in denuclearization would strengthen trust between the two Koreas through economic cooperation such as connecting railroads. It also believes that it can facilitate denuclearization by promising economic development to the North. However, the ceremony on Wednesday was only a symbolic event that only promised ground-breaking in the future. “It is more of a signal of beginning rather than a ground-breaking ceremony,” said Moon in the press conference on December 1 right after his meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump in Argentina. UN’s lift of sanctions upon Pyongyang’s denuclearization is a prerequisite to start construction. The approval on putting exemptions on UN sanctions made in the second working group meeting between South Korea and the U.S. was also limited to equipment and resources transferred to the North for the event.
The global community including the U.S. is keeping its eyes on the railroad and road connection between the two Koreas as it could compromise the coordination for North Korea sanctions. The South Korean government should keep a level head and draw a line between right and wrong as constructing core infrastructure before Pyongyang’s denuclearization could weaken its motivation to denuclearize.
Kim Jong Un’s Five-Year Plan to develop North Korea’s economy will be completed in 2020. Kim should show tangible results to North Korean people next year. Reconnecting with North Korea through Trans-Korea Railroads (TKR) can lead to iron silk road that connects Korea with Europe. If South Korea invests its technology and resources to improve North Korea’s poor transportation infrastructure, it would greatly help the North to overcome poverty and isolation. Turning those rosy dreams into reality depends on Kim’s will and action for denuclearization. Kim’s New Year’s address should include extraordinary suggestions to restart the denuclearization process of the Korean Peninsula.