In November 2013, President Park Geun-hye held a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Seoul and agreed to cooperate on a Russian-led project to develop a North Korean border port. It was hoped this would set the basis for a railway link from South Korea to Siberia.
At the summit, Seoul and Moscow signed a memorandum of understanding for South Korean businesses to participate in the “Rajin-Khasan project” established by North Korea and Russia in 2008 to modernize the 54-kilometer railway between the North’s Rajin and Russia’s Khasan.
It was part of Park’s “Eurasia Initiative.”
Russia was planning to use the rail-connected port as a key export point, while South Korean firms could ship exports first to Rajin for them to be transported as far as Europe via the Russian railway.
But the Eurasia Initiative has faced a possible collapse, as the Foreign Ministry of South Korea announced earlier this week that it would freeze the trans-Korea logistics project with Russia. The policy is part of Seoul’s unilateral sanctions on Pyongyang, which aim to squeeze the Kim Jong-un regime’s financial and shipping networks and foreign currency sources.
Through the pact, a South Korean consortium -- involving the Korea Railroad Corp., Hyundai Merchant Marine and POSCO -- was seeking to purchase a 34 percent stake in RasonKonTrans, the Russian-North Korean joint venture carrying out the rail and port renovation project.
The sanctions on the North are necessary as long as they lead the wayward regime to the negotiation table on halting nuclear weapons development. But it seems that the hawkish attitude appears to have gone too far.
The Park administration needs to reconsider the nation’s economic gains and losses and its relations with Russia. The pact on the railway construction with the Russian leader could be a matter of trustworthiness on the global stage.
Diplomatic sources say that Seoul reportedly notified Moscow of the suspension of the Rajin-Khasan project on Monday, a day before the sanctions were announced.
Russia, a veto-wielding permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, approved the council’s new resolution reprimanding North Korea for its nuclear test and rocket launch. But the country has expressed opposition to Seoul imposing unilateral sanctions on Pyongyang.
There is no need to strain relations with Russia, which was a member of the six party talks on resolving the North Korean nuclear issue.
The government should not forget that Russia has continued to oppose the U.S.-led plan to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system on the Korean Peninsula. Some pundits say that Russia’s resistance to the THAAD deployment over the years might be equivalent to that of China.
A Korean government official told reporters, “If there is progress on North Korea’s denuclearization, we would be able to reconsider whether to restart the project.” His remarks sound too idealistic and inflexible.