Time to do good for ourselves
This year, the 70th anniversary of Korea’s liberation and division will be the most frequently used phrase in Korea. While liberation was a blessing, the division that came later is a shame. The peninsula’s split has brought tears to separated families over the past 70 years, and the 1950-53 Korean War that lasted for three years ensured the division was a fixed state.
China and Taiwan fought for 22 years in a civil war until 1949. But nine million people visit each country every year now, and the trade volume between them is $200 billion. But South and North Korea still live in a confrontational state. While we are pitted against each other, we are forgetting that this only benefits other countries.
I recently met a Chinese businessman named Hu Zenping who is in the fisheries industry. As Chinese marine products are affected by environmental pollution, he decided to import North Korean fish. He reached an agreement with North Korea to provide fishing boats in the East Sea and receive half of the fish North Korean fishermen catch. The main product is pollock, which is very popular in Korea but is increasingly becoming scarce.
South Korea imports most of its pollock from Russia. It is regrettable that both South and North Korea have missed a great opportunity that would benefit both sides.
In the China-North Korea border cities of Nanping and Sanhe, it is easy to spot anthracite and iron ore being transported from North Korea and China. It leaves Korean businessmen frustrated. It would be great if Korea could use these resources for our economy. As assistance from the South shrunk after the sanctions in 2010, North Korea increased economic exchanges with China. The trade volume between China and North Korea grew drastically since 2010, from $3.4 billion in 2010 to $5.6 billion in 2011, and then to $6 billion in 2012 and $6.5 billion in 2013. While South and North Korea grew confrontational, China took advantage of the hostile mood and North Korea became more dependent on China.
It also benefitted Russia. In October 2014, the Ministry for the Development of the Russian Far East announced the project Pobeda, meaning “victory” in Russian. It is a railway modernization project, improving and expanding a 3,500 kilometer-long North Korean railway (about 2,000 miles). Russian civil engineering company Mostovik participates in the project, and the $25 billion construction cost will be covered by profit from North Korean natural resources developed by Russian companies.
For nearly seven decades, South and North Korea have given great opportunities to other countries. Now it is about time for us to do good things for ourselves. The South Korean economy is trapped in a prolonged slump due to low growth, low prices, low investment and low interest rates, and the North Korean economy is affected by the slowdown of the Chinese economy. Seoul and Pyongyang need to work together for a better future.
*The author is a researcher at the Center for Unification and Culture of the JoongAng Ilbo.
JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 12, Page 34
by KO SOO-SUK