Railway project to up exchanges

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Railway project to up exchanges

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Korea Railroad Corporation (Korail) on Tuesday announced plans to launch a project to hold events with Eurasian countries that fall on the Silk Road Express route in order to advance Korea’s vision of building a transcontinental railroad.

Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se and Korail CEO Choi Yeon-hye signed a business agreement at the ministry’s headquarters in central Seoul to set up a task force by the end of the month to discuss routes, participants and additional details for the Eurasia Silk Road Friendship Express project.

The railroad project, in keeping with President Park Geun-hye’s Eurasia Initiative, is expected to launch a train route over the summer that will stop at major points on the envisioned Silk Road Express and hold events to promote cultural and diplomatic exchanges.

President Park announced her vision in October 2013 for the Eurasia Initiative, a plan to boost the regional economy through free trade and economic cooperation in the Eurasian bloc.

As part of the initiative, she proposed a railroad that would connect the Korean Peninsula to Russia, China, Central Asia and on to Europe.

The ministry said the aim of the railroad project would be to increase cooperation in the Eurasia region in trade and commerce, next-generation exchanges and building of complex supply chains.

It added that it was also intended to promote peaceful cooperation on the Korean Peninsula and increase dialogue on unification.

“We want to enable this project to be linked to and relevant to the larger picture,” a Foreign Ministry official told the Korea JoongAng Daily.

“This includes aiding in the process of resolving certain issues, such as the building of the railway, simpler customs procedures - which is probably the biggest issue - and visa issues.”

According to the Foreign Ministry, the project comes at a significant time this year, coinciding with the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Korea from Japanese colonial rule and the 25th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Korea and Russia and Korea and Mongolia.

The Silk Road Express may eventually be linked this to Russia’s Trans-Siberian Railway and Trans-China Railways through North Korea, which can also promote economic cooperation and unification on the peninsula.

The Friendship Express may commence as early as July, but the task force will iron out the details and schedule, the official said, though it would likely pay tribute to various historic and diplomatic landmarks.

“Whereas the Korea-Russia Friendship Express was just with Russia, this time, the project will target Eurasia,” the official said. “So this will include not just Russia, but China, through Central Asia and as far as Poland and Germany.”

Once the task force is established, he said, there will be an opportunity to collaborate with these countries, too.

The Korea-Russia Friendship Express ran for two weeks in July 2002, and promoted travel and cultural exchanges via the Trans-Siberian Railway.

The official added that the government’s initial budget for the project is 1 billion won ($917,000).

BY SARAH KIM [sarahkim@joongang.co.kr]

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