Both North and South Korea agreed on Tuesday to improve and construct railway lines linking the two countries together, the South’s unification ministry has announced.
Proposals for the line — which would link Moscow, Pyongyang, and Seoul and cost around $35 billion — come amid warming relations between the two countries.
“Among the trilateral cooperation on the railway, electricity, and energy, connecting railways (between Russia and the two Koreas) appears to be most likely,” South Korean President Moon Jae-in said during a visit to Moscow this weekend.
“Through permanent peace on the Korean Peninsula, I’m hoping that the Trans-Siberian Railway will extend all the way to the southern port city of Busan, where I grew up,” he continued. “I hope you will join our efforts to open up new possibilities and common prosperity on the Korean Peninsula.”
Separate talks between senior officials took place at the border village of Panmunjom on Tuesday, where loose plans were outlined to upgrade the North’s outdated transport system whose trains are estimated to run at around 30 miles per hour.
During the April summit between Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong-un in April, Kim acknowledged the sorry state of North Korean infrastructure and expressed admiration for the South’s bullet train system linking its major cities.
The first agreed step is to conduct a joint study of the North’s railway lines to see what improvements need to be made that will take place at an “early date.” However, all joint economic ventures remain contingent on the North Korean regime giving up its nuclear weapons, which would then allow the international community to lift some of the economic sanctions crippling its weak communist economy.
Improving rail services is one of the many big plans discussed between the two Koreas during their recent detente. President Moon is also interested in making a joint bid for the 2030 World Cup. Kim also plans to expand the country’s tourist industry and allow the opening of some multinational businesses such as McDonald’s.
“President Moon told the FIFA president that the dream of the two Koreas jointly hosting the World Cup is becoming a reality little by little following their first meeting,” a presidential official said.
Some investors believe that, with the possibility of a fully fledged peace agreement, North Korea country could present a lucrative investment opportunity as the country develops closer trade ties and relations with the international community.
They argue that this — combined with the North’s considerable mineral wealth, geographic location, and the availability of cheap labor — could see exponential growth for the country’s economy. Yet others point to the regime’s long record of economic failure, as well a the lack of legal guarantees and the country’s appalling human rights record as sufficient reason to be pessimistic.