President Moon: Railways are path to North Korea peace

South Korea President Moon Jae-in. (Bloomberg pic)

SEOUL: South Korean President Moon Jae-in proposed setting up an “East Asian Railroad Community” that includes the US 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.”

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 US 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 US would grant North Korea a peace deal and other security guarantees in concert with its own disarmament steps. The US, 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 denuclearisation” 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 denuclearisation of North Korea and corresponding comprehensive measures by the United States will be pursued quickly.”