Transport ministers forge alliance for connectivity, discuss development gap

By Cho Chung-un

Chinese transport minister refuses to be drawn on inter-Korean rail project

  • Published : May 26, 2019 - 17:01
  • Updated : May 26, 2019 - 17:23

LEIPZIG, Germany -- An annual forum of transport ministers around the world wrapped up Friday, strengthening an alliance to create better connectivity for regional prosperity, but leaving questions about developmental imbalance in the sector between advanced and emerging countries.

The International Transport Forum, dubbed “the Davos of transport,” brought more than 1,000 government representatives, experts and business leaders from 71 countries to the German city of Leipzig, serving as a platform to address technological progress and challenges in the sector amid growing public pressure to curb carbon emissions.

From transport infrastructure building to setting standards for vehicle-to-vehicle connectivity, ministers shared the progress of their policy initiatives and regulatory frameworks, as well as the cultural and political reasoning behind their policymaking decisions. 

International Transport Forum Secretary-General Kim Young-tae (left) and Vice Transport Minister Kim Jeong-ryeol of South Korea (right) shake hands with Tunisian Transport Minister Hichem Ben Ahmed at the ITF summit in Leipzig, Germany, Thursday, welcoming the African country as the forum’s 60th member. (ITF)

South Korean Vice Transport Minister Kim Jeong-ryeol called for international support for the reconnection of inter-Korean railways, saying this would not only provide land links between Asia and Europe but would also bring about peace in the region. German Transport Minister Andreas Scheuer supported the project, saying it would have incredible economic consequences and would bring the two sides together socially, citing the German experience of unification.

Chinese Transport Minister Li Xiaopeng said at a separate press conference that China would not be involved in an inter-Korean railway project, calling it “their own business.”

When asked about China’s role in facilitating projects to reconnect railroads between South and North Korea, he said the project should be carried out by the two Koreas, clearly indicating that China wouldn’t be involved.

“Reconnecting the railway network between two Koreas is their own business, and they have to discuss the matter,” the minister said via a translator.

Ministers representing International Transport Forum member countries attend a closed meeting at the annual ITF summit in Leipzig, Germany, Thursday. (ITF)

The Chinese minister also hailed the country’s Belt and Road Initiative, stressing that it would bring economic prosperity to countries on the envisioned routes. Answering a question about the growing fears of a Cold War mentality developing between China and the US of late, the minister dismissed the concerns, saying China would “never exercise hegemony” and had no history of invading other countries.

Regulatory measures on emerging technologies were also discussed.

Addressing the US’ drone technology and autonomous driving, US Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao said the government would regulate without hampering the innovation being led by venture companies in Silicon Valley.

“Who will regulate that? From a federal point of view, we will address public concerns without hampering innovation. … Consumer acceptance will lead to success of their technology,” she said.

Stressing that 1.35 million people are killed in road accidents each year, Swedish Transport Minister Tomas Eneroth urged concerted efforts to enhance safety through technological advancement and a global policy framework. The Scandinavian country will host the third global ministerial conference on road safety early next year.

The forum also reflected on the increasing geopolitical competition in the sector, with advanced countries having applied state-of-the-art technologies to their transport infrastructure via massive injections of state funds, while other nations continue to lack infrastructure and resources.

Pointing out that the ITF is a politically neutral organization, Secretary-General Kim Young-tae said the think tank will serve as a platform for exchanging different views but will pursue balance by diversifying the constituents of the coalition.

“My mission is to make ITF a more globalized (platform). We need to invite more countries and are waiting for active participation of other countries,” he told reporters.

ITF is a Paris-based intergovernmental organization linked to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The EU-oriented forum this year welcomed Tunisia as its 60th member. South Korea held the presidency at this year’s forum, the second Asian country to do so after Japan.

By Cho Chung-un, Korea Herald correspondent (