'The Korean Dream' - with Some Conditions

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'The Korean Dream' - with Some Conditions

Once the severed 20-km section on the Kyongui railroad is restored to link Seoul and Sinuiju (via Pyongyang), a dreamt-of era of an international railroad running the distance of 15,000 km from Pusan to Lisbon in Portugal would unfold before us. This is the Iron Silk Road envisioned by President Kim Dae-jung. While the long-term economic benefits the two Koreas would gain from the restoration of Kyongui railway would be incalculably great, its symbolic significance would defy the imagination. During the past half-century, the Korean people have led a hard pressed life, precariously hanging onto the edges of a cliff on the Korean Peninsula, while being at odds with the Continent of Asia. For the Korean people, the railway extending from Seoul to Paris would signify not only a new realm of practical possibilities but also the opening of a new horizon in the national consciousness.

This appears to be the reason why President Kim harbors a romantic passion that borders on the legendary for the Iron Silk Road. His passion transcends his esteem for practical policies such as inter-Korean economic cooperation, the creation of a logistic center in Northeast Asia, and economic entry into the Eurasian Continent. In his report after returning from the Pyongyang summit talks, President Kim declared that the two Koreas would restore the railroad to establish a Silk Road of the new millennium. In a Liberation Day speech, President Kim again emphasized the opening of an Iron Silk Road traversing China and Russia.

President Kim is even using his plans for the Iron Silk Road to symbolize the beginning of a new era for the Korean Peninsula. According to President Kim, Korea will develop into a hub linking the Pacific with the Eurasian Continent, once the Silk Road of the new millennium is established on the Korean Peninsula and connects with Europe. From its current status as a peripheral country at the eastern tip of the Continent of Asia, Korea will emerge as a nation of primary global importance, according to this vision.

This dream of ushering in a new era of the Korean Peninsula is attractive enough to captivate both President Kim and the entire Korean people. The vision of Korea being connected by railway to the Eurasian Continent, home to 75 percent of the entire global population, 60 percent of the world's Gross National Product (GNP) and three quarters of confirmed energy resource deposits, is an exhilarating prospect for the Koreans. Korea would not only become a bridge linking the Pacific with the Eurasian Continent, but would also come to boast twice the purchasing power of the 800 million people in the United States and Europe by the year 2025. It would also stand in the center of the economic activities of 2.5 billion Asians, who are expected to account for almost one quarter of the entire global GNP by 2025.

The anticipated dawning of a new era of the Korean Peninsula is faultless as a vision and an ideal. The fact that one could travel to Paris from Seoul on an international railway does not guarantee the beginning of such an era, however. Japan is responsible for 70 percent of Asia's GNP, but no one refers to the current times as an era of Japan. The Roman Empire, the British Empire, and the American era did not come about merely with economic and military power and access to strategic locations. They were the result of highly developed civilizations and enterprising spirit and vision.

Japan will be a powerful rival to contend with in establishing the Iron Silk Road. It has already virtually completed a feasibility study for a grand and far-reaching vision, its so-called East Asian Highway. This highway would link Japan with the Continent of Asia through a 235-km undersea tunnel and bridges, which would extend from Kyushu to Pusan by way of Tsushima.

Once the undersea tunnel is laid to Pusan, it would take only six-and-a-half hours to cover the 650km between Fukuoka to Seoul by car, traveling at a speed of 100 km per hour, and 12 hours to run the distance of 1,200 km from Seoul to Beijing. Japan has also recently begun to prepare for a Japanese version of the Iron Silk Road based on the goal of establishing a railway that would connect Japan with the Trans-Siberian Railway via Hokkaido and Sakhalin.

The era of the Korean Peninsula is a political dream. It is a dream worth nursing. Its fulfillment comes with conditions, however. The first condition is the establishment of peace beyond a shadow of doubt on the Korean Peninsula through real improvements in inter-Korean relations, and the creation of a consultative body for peace and prosperity centered on the two Koreas and including the four big powers in the region. The second condition requires that the Silk Road of the new millennium be established within the overarching framework of creating a Northeast Asian community that encompasses China and Russia, as well as Japan. We will have to devise and follow a long-term plan to implement these measures.

There is no rhetoric that is not exaggerated, and no politics that is not accompanied by rhetoric. Rhetoric supported by intelligence enhances political outcomes. A deep understanding of not only the economy of Northeast Asia, but also of its complex internal relationships based on its politics, culture and history is required of President Kim - as well as a fondness for waxing lyrical on the era of the Korean Peninsula.

by Kim Young-hee

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