Korea and Russia get closerSouth Korea has become the first among Asian countries in the Pacific to establish a visa-waiver agreement with Russia. Russian President Vladimir Putin and President Park Geun-hye struck the deal during their second summit, which was held in Seoul. Thanks to the development, Korean and Russian nationals can now stay in each other’s country for a maximum of 60 days without a visa after Jan. 1, 2014. We hope the pact paves the way in promoting the two strategic partners’ business activities in the diverse areas of tourism, medical services, education, culture and sports by further expanding human exchanges from their current level, which stand at 200,000 visitors annually.
Since the establishment of a diplomatic relationship in 1990, the human exchanges remained at a standstill in the 2000s primarily due to political and economic reasons. But we can hardly ignore the visa problem, which costs a considerable amount of time and money. For example, it took a week and as much as 140,000 won ($130) on average for Koreans to get a tourist visa to Russia. When Korean visitors tried to hurry the visa procedure along, the cost easily exceeded 200,000 won. Russians have been experiencing almost the same problem when they try to get visas to Korea. Therefore, many Koreans hesitated to visit Russia or had to give up on the idea altogether. The leader’s deal on visas will reduce the number of such cases and shrink the psychological distance between the two countries.
Two presidents also issued a joint statement aimed at linking the Park-proposed “Eurasian Initiative” and Putin’s “New East Policy.” As a pilot project for trilateral economic cooperations among South Korea, North Korea and Russia, both leaders signed an MOU that allows Korean companies - such as a global steelmaker Posco, Hyundai Merchant Marine Co. and Korea Railroad Corporation - to participate in the construction of railways, ports and harbors for the Rajin-Khasan railroad project, which Pyongyang and Moscow have been pursuing. Park and Putin also plan to sign two more MOUs: one on the right to use the polar route for shipping and the construction of ports in the Far East and the other on cooperation between the Trans-Korean Railway and the Trans-Siberian Railway.
Despite the agreements, the trilateral cooperation could end up going nowhere if North Korea balks. Tripolar cooperation will not only provide economic benefits to all parties involved but also contribute to the peace and stability of Northeast Asia. We hope the two leaders can ensure North Korea’s participation in the project.