[EDITORIALS]Rail links and the U.S.South and North Korea have agreed in principle to conduct test runs on the Gyeongeui and Donghae railway lines across the Demilitarized Zone and will settle the essential military security procedures at general officer talks tomorrow.
If the two sides agree and the test runs do take place, their meaning and effects will be significant.
According to research by experts, the railways would enable North Korea to earn $300 million-$400 million annually from freight and service charges. Also, if Pyongyang could modernize its railroad facilities with outside help, it could be an opportunity for North Korea’s industry to record rapid growth.
For South Korea, the opening of the railroads could reduce logistics costs with the North by one-third, and it would help Seoul to emerge as a hub of northeast Asian logistics. The event also holds great symbolic meaning as it allows Korea to become a point of contact with continental Asia. The agreement is the first step to a project that could benefit both Koreas.
The question is North Korea’s attitude in the future. During the past two years, Pyongyang has agreed on the inter-Korea railway test runs only to go against its word later. This time the North agreed on a test run again and even fixed a date. Some analysts have suggested that the past promises were broken because North Korea demanded massive raw material aid from the South in exchange for agreeing to the tests.
But we do not want to pay unnecessary attention to matters of the past. Pyongyang, however, must bear in mind that unreasonable requests, like asking for Seoul’s concession on the Northern Limit Line in the Yellow Sea, will not be tolerated. It must also refrain from considering the test runs as a one-time event to get some additional aid.
The agreement was made during a period of increasing tension between South Korea and the United States regarding the application of pressure on North Korea.
Considering Washington’s financial sanctions on North Korea and its acceptance of North Korean refugees, there is little chance that the Bush administration will welcome the recent decision.
It is different here. But while welcoming advances in relations with North Korea, the majority of Koreans also believe that conflict with the U.S. is undesirable. Therefore, the government must have a responsible explanation to the people about the correlation between the agreement and relations with the Bush administration.