President Park Geun-hye on Friday proposed a “Eurasia Initiative” that calls for linking energy and logistics infrastructure across the continent.
“A new era must be opened by once again connecting Eurasia as a single continent. The severed logistics network needs to be linked to overcome the physical barriers that prevent exchange,” Park said at the Global Cooperation in the Era of Eurasia conference in Seoul.
As part of related measures, Park suggested establishing a “Silk Road Express” that would connect rail and road networks from Korea’s Busan to Europe. Park also called for new sea routes utilizing the Arctic Sea to be developed.
Park, who has shown special interest in reconnecting South Korea’s rail network to Russia’s Trans-Siberian railway, is expected to discuss the issue during the meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin next month. Although the idea of linking South Korea’s railways to others on the continent has been floating around for some time, unstable inter-Korean relations have prevented the plans from taking shape.
Park also emphasized the need to increase energy cooperation between nations in the region, saying that they must take advantage of the fact that it includes the world’s leading producers and consumers of energy.
“Win-win Eurasian energy cooperation must be developed, such as linking energy infrastructures including electricity grids, gas and oil pipelines, and codeveloping China’s shale gas and eastern Siberia’s petroleum and gas,” Park said.
“Logistics and energy network in the Eurasian region will not only reduce logistics costs and stimulate global trade, but will also stabilize raw materials costs and contribute to the growth of the world economy.”
Establishing energy infrastructure that connects Korea to the continent, however, is likely to face significant difficulties.
Seoul and Russia had agreed under the Lee Myung-bak administration to build a gas pipeline traversing North Korea. However, the project remained on the back burner due to concerns over its economic viability and uncertainties surrounding North Korea.
Saying that establishing logistics and energy networks across the continent will facilitate the formation of the “Eurasian economic bloc,” Park also called for abolishing trade barriers.
“If trade barriers are gradually taken down and Eurasia becomes a free trade zone, Eurasia could be made into a gigantic market like the European Union,” Park said.
“A gigantic single market could be created if the negotiations on Korea-China-Japan free trade agreement is accelerated, and linked to trade agreements that cover within and outside Eurasia such as the RCEP and TPP.”
The RCEP, or Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, is a trade liberalization scheme among 10 ASEAN states and their free trade partners ― Australia, China, India, Japan, Korea and New Zealand.
The TPP, Trans-Pacific Partnership, is a U.S.-led push to create a free trade bloc linking Pacific-rim states. As recently as the two-day Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit earlier this month, Park appeared cautious about the issue.
At the time, Park did not express Seoul’s interest in joining the trade bloc, with her economic aide saying that Seoul would need more time to build public consensus over the issue.
Some 500 people including government officials, business executives and representatives of international bodies attended the forum hosted by the Korea Institute for International Economic Policy.
By Choi He-suk (email@example.com