North endangers Park’s Silk Road Express plan

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North endangers Park’s Silk Road Express plan

North Korea expressed its intention to skip a major meeting of the Organization for Cooperation between Railways (OSJD) to be held in Seoul in May, a senior government official exclusively told the JoongAng Ilbo Wednesday.

For South Korea, the participation of North Korea is a must as it is trying to become a full member of the 28-nation organization and it needs Pyongyang’s support.

The international body, established in 1956 among socialist countries, fosters cooperation among the member states for railway transportation across Eurasia.

Full membership is required for the Park Geun-hye government’s “Silk Road Express” project that envisions a railway line from South Korea to Europe via North Korea, China and Russia.

“To achieve our platform for the Silk Road Express project that runs through North Korea, we need full membership in the OSJD,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “To gain membership, we need a unanimous vote from the member states. Without the participation of North Korea, that is impossible.”

The official did not disclose how the government came to know of North Korea’s intention to skip the three-day event in Seoul.

South Korea joined the organization as an observer member in 2014.

Pyongyang’s unwillingness to attend the Seoul meeting appears to reflect inter-Korean relations that show little sign of a thaw in the third year of the Park government. The two Koreas are at odds over a number of contentious recent issues, including the unilateral wage hike demanded by the North for workers at the Kaesong Industrial Complex and the lifting of economic sanctions put in place after the sinking of the Cheonan warship, which left 46 sailors dead in 2010.

To further its bid to enter the international railway body, South Korea sent the president of state-run railway operator Korea Railroad, Choi Yeon-hye, to Pyongyang last April to attend a conference to win support from member states for its full membership.

An even more urgent task is to put the issue of South Korea’s membership on an agenda for a meeting of the organization to be held in the Czech Republic from April 20 to 24.

“We need a special measure to put our membership request on the main agenda during the conference in the Czech Republic that is now only three weeks away,” said another official at the Unification Ministry, who also asked not to be named.

BY JEONG YONG-SU, CHUN SU-JIN [kang.jinkyu@joongang.co.kr]

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