Asia Pacific

East Asian ‘railroad community’ offers path to North Korea peace, says South Korean President Moon Jae-in

Bloomberg, JIJI

South Korean President Moon Jae-in has proposed setting up an “East Asian Railroad Community” that includes the U.S. and North Korea as he seeks to tamp down rising tensions between the two adversaries.

Moon — who plans to visit Pyongyang next month for his third summit this year with Kim Jong Un — said in an address Wednesday that the new economic community would connect his country’s railroads to those of other northeast Asian nations. He compared the group to the coal and steel community that helped pave the way for the European Union.

“The community will expand the horizon of the Korean economy to the northern part of the continent and become the main artery of mutual prosperity in Northeast Asia,” Moon said, adding that the group could lead to similar energy and economic groupings. “It will initiate a Northeast Asian multilateral peace and security system.”

In the speech, delivered during a ceremony marking the 73rd anniversary of the end of Japan’s 1910-1945 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula, Moon also expressed his expectations for the normalization of Japan-North Korea relations

President Moon said that he and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe would work on developing bilateral relations in a future-oriented manner, and would cooperate closely with the aim of bringing peace and prosperity in the Korean Peninsula and Northeast Asia. Such cooperation will hopefully allow Japan and North Korea to normalize their ties, he added.

Moon stopped short of making any direct reference to issues related to so-called comfort women, the women and girls forced to provide sex at Japanese military brothels before and during World War II, or to Korean victims of forced labor under Japan’s colonial rule.

Instead, he emphasized the development of a future-oriented relationship between Japan and South Korea that may also promote the improvement of Tokyo-Pyongyang relations.

Moon has championed efforts to bring peace to the Korean Peninsula since taking office last year, and played a crucial role in bringing Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump together for their historic first summit in June. Since then, little progress has been made in getting North Korea to commit to a specific timetable to give up its nuclear weapons.

Kim’s regime has advocated a phased approach in which the U.S. would grant North Korea a peace deal and other security guarantees in concert with its own disarmament steps. The U.S., meanwhile, has sought more concrete steps toward dismantling the country’s arsenal before granting such concessions.

Moon and Kim committed during their first meeting in April to connecting their road and rail networks as a “first step” toward restarting economic cooperation. Moon said Wednesday that he hoped to hold groundbreaking ceremonies within this year for projects to reconnect the two Koreas.

The so-called Panmunjom declaration — named for the border area where it was signed on April 17 — also included pledges to work toward “complete denuclearization” and establish a “permanent and solid peace regime on the Korean Peninsula.” On Monday, Moon agreed to make the first trip to North Korea’s capital by a South Korean leader since 2007 to discuss implementing the pact.

After peace is established, Moon said, “special unification economic zones” could be built in border regions to help support small and medium-sized businesses.

“Peace and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula is a promise shared between their two leaders and the world,” Moon said. “I hope that the implementation of the complete denuclearization of North Korea and corresponding comprehensive measures by the United States will be pursued quickly.”