[Outlook]Change in the pipeline

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[Outlook]Change in the pipeline

It takes two hours to get to Vladivostok from Seoul by airplane. The sea route from Busan to Vladivostok is 700 kilometers. If one stands in Khasan, a Russian city by the Siberian border, and looks over the Tumen River toward North Korea, one can see Rajin and Sonbong.

On the Siberian steppe, which spans the distance from Irkutsk to Khabarovsk along the Amur River, the spirits of partisan guerrillas who fought against the Japanese occupation survive.

Many Korean independence activists were born in Usurisk and in the Korean settlement in Vladivostok, anti-Japanese fighters hid and conducted operations.

In Chita Oblast, where the Buryat Autonomous Okrug is located, Lee Gwang-su printed newspapers in Korean during the occupation.

Siberia is close to us geographically, culturally and emotionally but it has remained far away because we have not been able to enter Russia through North Korea for over half a century.

But things have started to change, as Siberia has emerged as a massive source of Russian resources.

Russia needs to sell energy and we have to buy it. Based on these common economic interests, the two countries have agreed on a natural gas deal in which fuel would be delivered via a pipeline through North Korea.

When gas is exported, it is liquidized and then shipped. Thus, we get liquefied natural gas, or LNG. LNG is then gasified and supplied to homes and factories.

In the Seoul-Moscow agreement, the gas would be sent directly to South Korea without being liquidized after a pipeline is built from Siberia to South Korea.

The gas that is to travel through the pipeline is called PNG, which costs only 70 percent what LNG does.

There are two benefits in importing gas from Siberia.

First, the cost, especially the shipping cost, is low. Second, the distance is short, so time can be saved.

If Russia successfully convinces North Korea about the pipeline, South Korea will import 7.5 million tons of natural gas annually for 30 years starting in 2015. That amount is estimated to be about 20 percent of the gas use projected in South Korea in 2015.

The so-called SNS pipeline would connect Siberia, North Korea and South Korea and is therefore meaningful politically as well as economically.

Its construction is a mega-sized project that will cost more than $100 billion. North Korea will earn enormous profits by providing the necessary labor.

According to President Lee Myung-bak, North Korea will also earn $150 million per year in transit fees.

It is expected to be difficult to reach an agreement with North Korea on building the pipeline, considering the tense current state of inter-Korean relations, unresolved nuclear issues and future uncertainty about North Korean politics in case of Kim Jong-il’s incapacitation.

But hundreds of millions of dollars, the expected earnings from the pipeline, would be too tempting for North Korea to keep saying “No.” If the pipeline can’t be constructed because of North Korea’s opposition, Russia and South Korea plan to ship the gas by sea.

But the pipeline passing through North Korea will accelerate North Korean reform and the opening of the country’s doors to the world.

It has the potential to be such a landmark project that South Korea and Russia must work together to realize it.

By constructing the pipeline through North Korea, Russia will be able to play the due role commensurate with its national power and close geographical location to the Korean Peninsula.

In this respect, the project will make a huge contribution to resolving issues on the Korean Peninsula and securing peace and security in Northeast Asia.

In discussions about issues on the Korean Peninsula, including the six-party talks on the denuclearization of North Korea, Russia has been pushed aside by the United States, China and Japan, and has played the role of second fiddle.

Russia’s passive attitude caused the role of the United States and China to become too large relatively.

Professor Han Yong-sup at Korea National Defense University said that Russia is glad that it has taken the presidency of a working group for peace and security in Northeast Asia, which was originally formed as a result of the Sept. 19 joint declaration.

If Russia works hard to develop Siberia, if the railways on the Korean Peninsula are connected to the Trans-Siberia Railway, and if ports in South Korea, Russia and Japan are connected and form a triangle, Siberia will look much different to us.

Then the East Sea can become a hub for sea transport logistics. It is possible to make this dream come true, if North Korea can be persuaded. We should knock on the doors of North Korea with patience.

If the front door doesn’t open, we should knock on the back door. This vision is a long-term achievement of President Lee’s visit to Russia.

*The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

By Kim Young-hie
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