Riding a slow trainTrains have crossed the border for the first time in half a century. The test run can have a significant impact on tensions because it softens one more military barrier between the South and the North. The latest movement has particular significance when we think of the old slogan, “the steel horse wants to run.”
The train’s operation can contribute to the prosperity of both sides.
South Korea can drastically reduce logistics costs and inject more vitality into the Kaesong Industrial Complex and tourism in North Korea.
North Korea will also be able to receive aid more rapidly, not to mention the hundreds of millions of dollars in fees it will be able to earn from the Gyeongeui Line alone.
The problem is that all the symbolism and benefits will be lost unless the train is operated on a regular basis.
But the latest moves by both sides have been very disappointing. Pyongyang flatly refused a request from Seoul to guarantee permanent military protection so that trains can be operated regularly. It seems that the North allowed the operation of the train only to receive raw materials from the South for its light industries. In other words, Pyongyang does not want to permit people and materials from the South to enter en masse.
But Seoul’s handling of the issue is equally disappointing as it has tried to exaggerate the meaning of the test run.
This test run came nearly seven years after the South and the North agreed to restore the railway. It means no one can say for sure how many years and how much effort will be needed until we can have another test run, not to mention regular train operation. Nevertheless, the government is busy fussing about the possibility of going to Pyongyang and even Russia, and all this hubbub just leaves us speechless.
It is also problematic that more than half of the passengers in the train were government officials or politicians, because all these high-profile figures are busy showcasing themselves rather than thinking about the public. It was also aggravating to see a governor was upset about being taken off the list, as if he had spent his own money to restore the railway when it was actually taxpayers’ money that made it happen.
The train operation across the border between the South and the North has its own significance.
But that significance may be tainted if the government tries to puff up its symbolic meaning or to use it for its own political purposes.