Dirt roads and national highways

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Dirt roads and national highways

Five years after unification, business is booming for 54-year-old Kim Jeong-sook, who owns a luxury resort located on the shores of the lake at Changjin, a 30-minute drive from Hamheung on a limited access highway. The area, designated a special international tourism zone, has made the resort especially popular to foreign guests, who come to experience special alternative therapy and massage in the quiet mountain and lake region. Reservations, which can be made through the Internet, are hard to come by. For her sister Kim Jeong-min, in a village further north, life after unification has changed little. New cell phone systems and the mobile Internet has made communications much more convenient, but she still burns briquettes to heat her house. Electricity, mass transportation, and broadband Internet service are nothing remarkable in South Korea, but several observers say that the situation won’t be the same for all Koreans after reunification, and that there will be differences even among North Koreans, depending on where they live. If things go as predicted by Marcus Noland, an analyst at the Institute for International Economics, Korean conglomerates will develop their own enclaves in a few pockets of North Korea, creating fragmented development at the early stages of binding the country together. South Korea is already a complicated grid of lines ― telephone, Internet, electricity and roads. North Korea is a different story, and bringing North Korea up to the South’s level will be one of the biggest and most costly post-unification tasks. “Security issues must be solved for peaceful coexistence, but they are less threatening than the economic and systemic reforms that must be made,” said Kim Won-bae, a senior researcher at the Korea Research Institute for Human Settlements. “In addition to vast differences in the size of the economy and the employment composition, the two Koreas have sharply contrasting levels of infrastructure development, which has a direct bearing on the integration of the two countries.” North Korea’s infrastructure is underdeveloped and poorly maintained. One of the main reasons is the government’s overemphasis on heavy industries ― infrastructure has been regarded as a supplementary element of production rather than as an integral part of economic development. According to the National Statistical Office in Seoul, total electricity generated in 1999 was only about one-thirteenth of that in the South. Transportation is also poor; although the railroad system is relatively well-developed for freight movements, it still has problems. Along the east coast line, for example, the electrification of the rail lines has made many tunnels too low to carry sea containers on flatbed cars. Air links are almost nonexistent. An economist, Oh Jae-hak, suggested that infrastructure development costs in North Korea would be on the order of several billion dollars per year for many years. Southern experts have several strategies on how to develop infrastructure in the North after unification. Ahn Byung-min, a senior researcher at the Korea Transport Institute, said that the first task should be three north-south highways and at least two east-west roads in the North to make it easier to develop all the regions of the reunified country. The next step, perhaps 10 years after unification, he said, would be links to railroads that could carry Korean freight all the way to Europe. Who will pay? The consensus is that in the early years, Seoul will have to write the checks, and that infrastructure development in the North will be constrained by budgets in the South. “Infrastructure investment will have to concentrate on a few crucial projects such as expanding power generation and key transport links,” Mr. Kim said. “Once the necessary legal and regulatory environment is established, then industrial renovation can take place with the assistance of international financial agencies, foreign investors and compensation from Japan.” He was referring to Japanese war reparations from World War II. Specialists are also unsure about how grand the initial infrastructure should be. For instance, when former President Park Chung Hee built a two-lane expressway connecting Seoul and Busan in the 1970s, he was criticized widely here for spending too much money on what was considered a lavish investment. The eight-lane road is now often a parking lot. by Wohn Dong-hee

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