Two Koreas hold talks on reviviing logistic project near border Russia

Lim Chang-won Reporter Posted : 2018-07-16 10:15 Updated : 2018-07-16 10:15
글씨작게 글씨크게

Song Young-gil (R), a ruling party lawmaker, walks into the lobby of Incheon International Airport after a trip to North Korea. [Yonhap News Photo]

SEOUL -- The two Koreas have held talks on reviving a stalled three-nation logistics project to use a special economic zone near the border between Russia and North Korea as a regional cargo base that could be linked by rail from South Korea to a trans-Siberian railway network.

The inter-Korean meeting took place last week when an 11-member South Korean delegation led by Song Young-gil, a ruling party lawmaker, visited the Rason economic zone through Russia's far eastern city of Vladivostok on Friday for a two-day inspection of port, railway and other facilities.

Instead of attending a seminar involving the two Koreas and Russia, the delegation had a series of separate discussions with North Korean and Russian officials, Song told reporters after returning home on Sunday. He heads the Presidential Committee on Northern Economic Cooperation.

Despite protracted international sanctions, South Korean delegates found that facilities in Rason were operating normally, said Ahn Byung-min, a director at the Korea Transport Institute, a state think tank in Seoul, who participated in the inter-Korean meeting.

Ahn said infrastructure in the zone was good enough to reactivate the logistics project "anytime when there is progress in North Korea-U.S. relations and denuclearization."

RasonConTrans, a joint venture established by a Russian company and North Korea in 2008, is responsible for upgrading a 54-kilometer-long rail line between Rason and the Russian border town of Khasan as well as related facilities.

South Korea withdrew from the three-nation logistics project in early 2016 due to tensions caused by North Korea's nuclear test and missile launches. At Russia's request, however, cargo shipments from Rason were exempt from sanctions imposed under a U.N. Security Council resolution in 2017.

"The railway infrastructure and port facilities in the Rajin-Khassan area are very well organized, so I realized that it is possible to move, unload and economize goods immediately through the port," Ahn said.

The two Koreas agreed to continue talks, Song said, suggesting Rason would play a crucial role if inter-Korean railroads are reconnected up to the border between Russia and North Korea.

At an inter-Korean summit in April, the two Koreas agreed to connect and modernize cross-border railways and roads. A joint study will begin this month on rebuilding the North's railroad network, but South Korean officials cautioned that full inter-Korean cooperation would depend on progress in negotiations between Pyongyang and Washington on denuclearization.