350 billion won earmarked for North’s rails, roads

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350 billion won earmarked for North’s rails, roads

Seoul plans to spend more than 350 billion won ($312.5 million) on modernizing North Korean roads and railways next year using South Korean taxpayers’ money, a local opposition lawmaker exclusively told the JoongAng Ilbo Wednesday.

The Moon Jae-in administration has never disclosed its planned budget for the cross-border initiative, and conservative lawmakers have refused to ratify the April 27 Panmunjom Declaration until the government comes clean with its spending plans.

Rep. Choung Byoung-gug, a member of the minor-right Bareunmirae Party and the parliamentary Foreign Affairs and Unification Committee, told the JoongAng Ilbo that the Unification Ministry, which handles relations with the North, has set aside 1.97 trillion won for a so-called South-North cooperation fund next year, and that 350 billion won was to be used to renovate North Korean roads and railways.

According to a budget plan for next year that the Unification Ministry recently submitted to the National Assembly - and Rep. Choung revealed to the JoongAng Ilbo - the Unification Ministry allocated 188.89 billion won to the North Korean road and railway project next year. Of that total amount, some 134 billion won will go toward the road project, 70.7 of which will be offered free. The balance will be offered in loans, meaning Pyongyang will have to pay the sum back in the future. About 54.8 billion won has been set aside for the railway project, 9.5 billion won of which will be offered free, and the rest through loans.

The opposition lawmaker said the Unification Ministry has additionally earmarked 163.7 billion won for North Korean roads and railways under a separate budget, which adds up the South Korean government spending to a total of nearly 352.59 billion won on the infrastructure project.

Choung accused the Unification Ministry of trying to avoid public criticism by saying it was going to carry out the joint project by loans. Choung said the Pyongyang regime has yet to pay Seoul back 3.3 trillion won it borrowed over the past decades.

The infrastructure projects are key pillars of the April 27 Panmunjom Declaration and Sept. 19 Pyongyang Declaration signed by South Korean President Moon and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un during their summits this year. In the Pyongyang Declaration, Moon and Kim specifically agreed to hold a ceremony marking the start of connecting roads and railways between both Koreas by the end of this year - yet barely any progress has been made.

Critics believe Washington has been trying to put the breaks on inter-Korean projects as it tries to keep sanctions on the North. Publicly, Seoul says the allies are closely consulting with each other on the North Korea issue.

If South Korea were to provide cash-strapped North Korea with vehicles, machinery and other equipment for track and road construction, it would violate United Nations Security Council Resolution 2397, which prohibits the export of industrial equipment to the North.

Those sanctions, passed unanimously on Dec. 22 last year, came after the North tested an intercontinental ballistic missile on Nov. 29 of that year.

BY YOO SUNG-WOON [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]
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