[VIEWPOINT]North must see beyond rail link’s symbolism

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[VIEWPOINT]North must see beyond rail link’s symbolism

The Gyeongui Line and East Coast Line railways that ran north to south through the Korean Peninsula but were disconnected on June 12, 1951 during the Korean War were to be reconnected, but North Korea cancelled the test run on the eve of the scheduled date. This is the third time that the North has agreed to the railroad reconnection then canceled it since Seoul and Pyongyang agreed to reconnect the railway lines at the first inter-Korean ministerial meeting in June 2000.
Despite the North’s cancellation, however, the railways have already become a symbol of cooperation between North and South Korea.
Since the opening of the Kaesong Industrial Complex, the axis that connects Kaesong with Munsan in the South and was used as the shortest infiltration route to the South during the Korean War has now been transformed into an axis for the construction of the Kaesong Industrial Complex. It is also the point of cooperation between the South and the North, through which hundreds of people, vehicles and goods pass every day.
Kaesong, which was once a strategically important location for the North, is now turning into an industrially important location and symbol of South-North cooperation, where the technology and resources of the South meet the land and labor of the North.
The Mount Kumgang tours that had started before the Kaesong project have grown, recording 298,247 visitors by the end of 2005.
Not counting the visitors to Mount Kumgang, the number of people who traveled between the North and the South in 2005 reached 88,341, which is more than the total number of visitors for the 60 previous years since the nations divided, which stood at 85,400.
Last year more than 1,100 South Koreans visited North Korea every day to reconnect the Gyeongui and East Coast railway lines, and an average of 33,540 people and 4,893 vehicles have crossed the border per month.
The two points where the railways were reconnected show that the two sides are nearing a stage of dismantling boundaries.
How can we expand the changes that have taken place at these points?
The railway reconnection is expected to play more than a symbolic role by transporting people, goods and culture a little faster, a little more deeply inside North Korea, and at a little less cost.
The disconnection of railroads in the past 55 years meant not only division between the South and the North, but also that the route leading to the continent has been blocked.
Due to our separation from the continent, we became a maritime country and succeeded in becoming a leading country in the world with the 10th-largest economy.
Linking the railroad between the South and the North will open a shortcut to our dream of travel to the continent, crossing over China, Siberia and Eurasia ― and to the world in all directions.
At the same time, it will prevent North Korea from being absorbed as the fourth northern province of China and it will work as a catalyst for the establishment of the Korean Peninsula economic community.
During the Cold War, South Korea and the United States had to take a hard-line policy toward North Korea together. In the post-Cold War era, however, the two countries have taken different positions toward North Korea, a combination of soft- and hard-line policies.
Between 1998 and 2000, the Kim Dae-jung administration in South Korea and the Clinton administration in the United States agreed to take a moderate policy toward North Korea for the first time, but they missed their golden chance.
With the inauguration of the Bush administration, the moderate policy toward North Korea came to an end.
North Korea must pay keen attention to the effects that the South Korean and U.S. elections in 2007 and 2008 will have on the two countries’ North Korea policy, and avoid making the same mistake it made in 1998-2000.
In the beginning of the post-Cold War era between 1991 and 1994, North Korea chose to promote a nuclear weapons development strategy, although it had concluded the Basic Agreement with South Korea and announced a joint declaration on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
Since then the North Korean nuclear issue has become the focus of diplomatic and security affairs on the Korean Peninsula.
The cancellation of the test run of railway lines implies that the North may be repeating its earlier mistake of losing a big gain for a small profit once again.
North Korea must not make a third strategic misjudgment prior to the elections in 2007-2008, because it will have a big negative effect on peace in the Korean Peninsula.
Moreover, if North Korea repeats the mistake of canceling the railroad reconnection, it risks jeopardizing the North Korean policy that the South Korean government has chosen, despite domestic and international difficulties. Ultimately South Korean leaders have no choice but to accept the will of the people, since we are a democratic country.
June is the month in which the test run of the railway lines between the South and the North was cancelled; it is also the month in which the memories of the tragic outbreak of the Korean War (June 25) and the hopes of the June 15 South-North Joint Declaration intersect with each other.
The reconnection of railway lines is an important link that will facilitate forward movement toward peace on the peninsula ― along with former President Kim Dae-jung’s visit to North Korea, the North’s return to the six-way talks, summit talks materializing between President Roh Moo-hyun and Kim Jong-il, and the possibility of opening South Korea’s access to the continent in all directions. If these come to pass, South and North Korea will reach a point when peace on the peninsula will be consolidated.
I sincerely hope that North Korea, which is at an important juncture, considers the North Korea policies of South Korea and the United States, and chooses a wise strategy for the sake of peace and co-prosperity on the Korean Peninsula.

* The writer is a visiting professor at the Kim Dae-jung Presidential Library and Museum, Yonsei University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Park Myung-lim
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