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Will Korean denuclearization lead to an integrated economic initiative with Russia and China?

Seoul proposes audacious inter-Korean trade initiative with China and Russia

At their meeting at the close of April, the South Korean President Moon Jae-in gifted the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, a picture of just what an integrated Korea could achieve.

The proposed plan, ‘A new economic map of the Korean peninsula’, aims to develop three economic belts linking trade between Korea not just with China and Russia, but even to Europe.

The audacious program was promised to the citizens of South Korea during Moon’s presidential campaign as a part of his presidential program, and it now looks like it has a chance at becoming reality.

The proposed initiative perceives three economic belts, one linking Korea’s west to China to become a logistical hub, a second to the east for an energy cooperation with Russia, and another on the present north-south border area as a tourism zone.

The plan also envisions a railway link from the southern tip of the Korean peninsula through Seoul and Pyongyang to Beijing, which would provide a link to Europe. .

The South China Morning Post reports:

President Moon Jae-in gave the North’s leader Kim Jong-un a USB drive containing a “New Economic Map of the Korean Peninsula” at the fortified border village of Panmunjom on April 27.

The initiative included three economic belts – one connecting the west coast of the peninsula to China, making the region a centre of logistics; one connecting the east coast to Russia for energy cooperation and one on the current border to promote tourism.

Whilst sources at the South Korean presidential office did not give further details about the information contained in the drive, they confirmed that the plan was in line with Moon’s “Berlin speech” last year when he outlined his basic approach to the north on a visit to the German capital.

During last year’s presidential election campaign, Moon pledged to merge the two Koreas’ economies in a single market to lay the foundations for unification.

Park Byeong-seug, a South Korean lawmaker from Moon’s ruling Democratic Party of Korea, said the proposal was in line with Moon’s campaign promises.

“The concept of the three belts was one of President Moon’s pledges during the election last year,” Park said.

“The new economic map includes railway links between the two Koreas and China’s northeast stretching all the way to Europe.”

One part of the plan would involve the construction of a rail link starting in Mokpo on the southwest tip of the peninsula, passing through Seoul and Pyongyang and the North’s Special Administrative Region of Sinuiju, before reaching Beijing.

“The concept of the three belts was one of President Moon’s pledges during the election last year,” Park said.

“The new economic map includes railway links between the two Koreas and China’s northeast stretching all the way to Europe.”

One part of the plan would involve the construction of a rail link starting in Mokpo on the southwest tip of the peninsula, passing through Seoul and Pyongyang and the North’s Special Administrative Region of Sinuiju, before reaching Beijing.

Improving the area’s logistics would also benefit China as its access to the open seas in that part of the world is physically blocked by the Korean peninsula and Russia’s far east.

North Korea’s economy is also closely tied to the northeast of China and opening up the reclusive state’s markets could provide new opportunities for the Chinese provinces on its border.

Lu Chao, a research fellow at Liaoning Academy of Social Sciences, said: “The plan would have a huge impact on China’s northeastern region as it would transform the region as a centre of logistics in East Asia, which could function as a driving force for the rapid economic growth of the region.”

“The northeast is the region with the greatest economic potential in China. A railway connection would bring a myriad of investments from overseas and would help the economy take off.”

Yet observers added that the initiatives were dependent on Kim accepting Seoul’s definition of denuclearisation – namely the complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantling of the North’s nuclear programme.

Cheng said: “[Without Pyongyang’s complete denuclearisation] it won’t be so easy. After all, international society is still bound by the UN’s sanctions.”

Seoul has endorsed UN Security Council Resolution 2375, which limits its scope for a deal on economic cooperation.

The measure, passed in September last year, limits the export of crude oil and refined petroleum products to North Korea and bans joint ventures with the hermit state.

South Korea would have to allow its allies and the UN to mediate any easing of sanctions before it could establish any economic cooperation with the North.

Moon Chung-in, a special foreign affairs and national security adviser in Seoul, said last month that Seoul’s economic incentives would compensate Pyongyang for freezing its missile programme, disclosing its nuclear capacity and allowing international inspections within its borders.

As the West goes on about stirring up armed conflict and sowing real international divisions, the East goes about a program of unification. China and Russia are described as being the biggest threats to America’s global economic hegemony, and they are increasingly finding ways to work together in developing their mutual military, and economic interests, together with those of other nations, such as Iran, Venezuela, Syria, Pakistan, and now possibly even Korea.

With South Korea having been almost an American vassal for decades, now the possibility of striking an international economic initiative with the two big bad wolves, Russia and China, is rearing its head. While Washington has been threatening nuclear hostility with Pyongyang, North Korea’s President suddenly decided, after a few rounds of ballistic missile tests and participation in the 2018 Winter Olympics, to open up and cut a peace deal, which now looks like it might lead to even more than that.

The question still stands, however, as Trump goes about potentially unraveling the Iran nuclear deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), will the deep seated Russophobic and anti-China interests in the Washington swamp let it happen that way? This economic initiative stands to bring a massive amount of economic cooperation that hasn’t happened on this sort of scale in this part of the eastern hemisphere during the modern age. If Washington is already antipathetic about China’s One Belt One Road Initiative, answering it with a potential counter initiative and successive rounds of trade tariffs, how will this one be received?

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