A grand design for the peninsulaIf North Korea is accountable for the recent computer disruptions of major television networks and banks as suspected, our security risk from the belligerent neighbor across the border may enter an entirely new territory. Modern warfare is carried out through electronics, technology and information. If our cybersecurity and computer networks come under similar attacks during a war, our combat abilities could be fatally damaged. If we choose to anticipate the North’s future provocations without devising and reinforcing effective countermeasures against cyberattacks, our deterrence capabilities will critically fall short of guaranteeing our security.
The answer lies in our proactive efforts to seek a comprehensive solution to the conundrum after first responding sternly to the provocations from the North and then buying some time. President Park Geun-hye and her government vowed to beef up our defense and draw clear assurances on extended deterrence and security protection from the United States while leaving room for an open dialogue with North Korea.
While maintaining such a staunch posture, the Park administration took a right - and prudent - position by not seeking additional anti-North measures separate from the new sanctions under UN Security Council Resolution 2094 in response to the North’s latest nuclear test in February.
Enough ideas have already been rolled out to solve pending inter-Korean issues. If Pyongyang refrains from making further missile and nuclear tests and the escalated tensions ease to some extent, the two Koreas will revert to a long and dreary wait-and-see dialogue mode. It will surely be a sign for the Park administration to activate her initiative of establishing a trust-building process with the recalcitrant regime in Pyongyang.
I would like to introduce an ambitious plan that could be beneficial to the two Koreas - as well as powers with an interest in the Korean Peninsula - in ensuring regional peace and prosperity when the time arrives to discuss a joint economic coalition on the peninsula after mutual trust has been built, as hoped by President Park. In his laborious work on the “Grand Design for the Korean Peninsula,” world-renowned architect and urban designer Kim Seok-chul proposed a creation of a multinational city along the Tumen River that flows through North Korea, China and Russia and a transpeninsular canal connecting the West Sea and East Sea.
The Tumen River mouth is a barren land that brings together the frontiers of North Korea, China and Russia. Under Kim’s vision, the three countries each contribute 3.3 million square meters (815 acres) of land along the river. South Korea and Japan could join the project by offering capital and technology. China’s stretch of land would turn into a tourism attraction; Russia’s into a petrochemical and chemical industrial base; Korea’s into a hub of innovation; and Japan’s into a port city. The oval-shaped fortress-like cosmopolis would lead to the Kulpo port in its southern tip through a 10-kilometer-long (6.2-mile) corridor of industrial clusters that include electronics development and shipbuilding sites.
Transcontinental railways which would be connected to the multinational city through Siberia and Manchuria would provide Chinese industrial and agricultural production with an easy and fast access to the Pacific, and also bring Russian natural gas to South Korea and Japan. Japan also would gain easier sea-and-land access through China and Russia to export to Europe. Meanwhile, South Korean manufacturers like Samsung Electronics and Hyundai Motor could build industrial lines there and save costs in logistics and transportation in exporting to China, Russia and Europe. The area surrounding Kulpo port in the southern tip of the multinational city would also be a great tourist attraction as it has abundant ancient artifacts.
Traditional allies China and Russia are in a good position to invite North Korea into the lucrative project. North Korea would also be tempted by the enormous gains from leasing its land and work force. Various political, military and economic problems between the two Koreas could be solved through joint work on the project. This North Korean wasteland could turn into the heart of its economy if the multinational city is connected to the existing Rason and Seonbong special economic zone. Kim Jong-un would be a fool to pass on such a windfall to recuperate the impoverished nation.
When embarking on discussions on the Tumen River project, South and North Korea could start discussing the creation of a trans-continental canal as well. The Baekdu mountain range runs down the peninsula like a spine, hindering horizontal flow and exchange. But an alley of the lowland spreads across the trail from east to west. The Seoul-Wonsan railway passes over the lowland without a tunnel. The canal can be built along the alley of the Seoul-Wonsan line. A pipeline at the bottom of the canal could supply Russian gases to South Korea. Powered with a cogeneration plant with a capacity of 2.5 milllion kilowatts nearby, the canal can serve as an energy artery for both sides of the east and west. The canal could be completed within two years at a cost of 2 trillion won ($1.79 billion). The funding could come from selling the sand near the Imjin River.
It may all sound like a dream for now. But it is a feasible dream. A common dream could bring the two Koreas together. At some point, a government could be drawn by Kim’s envisioning. We wouldn’t have to wait that far if President Park takes an interest in the picture.
The dream also corresponds with the president’s goal of building an economic coalition on the peninsula. Kim’s ideas did not draw that much interest from the conservative camp during the last presidential election - possibly because Paik Nak-chung, literary critic who serves as a mentor to the liberal camp, wrote the introduction.
The election days are gone. North Korea remains belligerent as ever, but at the same time it is signaling for a dialogue with the United States. South Korea should begin envisioning a grand picture on peaceful coexistence of the two Koreas. I advise the president to pay attention to Kim’s ideas.
*The author is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Kim Young-hie