President Moon Jae-in on Monday vowed to seek ways to increase cooperation with North Korea within the boundaries of international constraints.
Speaking at a meeting with senior aides on Monday, the second anniversary of this first summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, Moon said that Seoul must continue to take “even small steps” to continue the peace process.
Moon and Kim held their first summit on April 27, 2018 on the South’s side of Panmunjom. The two met again about a month later on the North’s side of the border village, and held their third summit in Pyongyang in September of that year.
“The Panmunjom Declaration opened the door of peace, but the two years since then have shown that peace cannot be established overnight,” Moon said. The Panmunjom Declaration was adopted at the first summit, and outlines steps the two sides will take to reduce tension and increase cooperation.
Saying that the two Koreas have failed to put the Panmunjom Declaration into practice not due to a lack of will, but due to international constraints, Moon went on to say that he will seek the most “realistic and realizable” path to inter-Korean relations.
“The COVID-19 crisis could be a new opportunity for inter-Korean cooperation. At present it is the most urgent and necessary cooperation task,” Moon said.
“Starting with the response to COVID-19, I hope inter-Korean exchange and cooperation will expand to response to livestock disease, natural disaster in the border area and to climate change,” Moon said, adding that his administration will do what it can to facilitate reconnecting the two Koreas’ railroads.
The Ministry of Unification and Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport, meanwhile, held a ceremony to renew Seoul’s commitment to connecting the rail networks of the two Koreas.
With inter-Korean relations and the North Korean denuclearization process at a standstill, Seoul hopes to first reopen the northern East Sea line in South Korea. The line spans 110.9 kilometers and connects Gangneung Station to the South’s northernmost station in Jejin. The line was opened in 1932, and shut down in 1967.
While reconnecting the two Koreas’ railroads is a key inter-Korean project, no progress has been made despite the two sides having held a ceremony marking the start of the project in late 2018, due to the lack of progress in US-North Korea dialogue.
“The situation is difficult due to slow inter-Korean relations becoming prolonged, and the unprecedented COVID-19 crisis, but the government hopes to bloom the flower of peace economy starting with the border area,” Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chul said at the ceremony.
Saying that if the two sides work together, the two countries’ railroads could be reconnected, the unification minister said that he will endeavor to “expand the space of inter-Korean relations.”
The government’s plan would require an investment of over 2.85 trillion won ($2.3 billion), and requires a feasibility study.
The government plans to finalize the plans by the end of the year with the aim of breaking ground by the end of 2021.
By Choi He-suk (firstname.lastname@example.org