Officials from the two Koreas began talks Thursday morning on future road links between the North and South.
The talks are being held in the Tongilgak building on the North Korean side of Panmunjom, with the ROK side led by vice minister Kim Jeong-ryeol of the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport (MOLIT).
He is accompanied by Lee Joo-tae, director-general of inter-Korean exchanges at the Ministry of Unification (MOU) and Baek Seung-geun, director of the transport ministry’s road bureau.
The DPRK delegation, in turn, is being led by vice minister of land and environmental protection Pak Ho Yong, who is accompanied by two as-yet-unnamed officials.
The first meeting began at 1000 KST and lasted 25 minutes, the MOU said, with further talks expected later in the day.
Vice minister Kim told press earlier in the day that the two sides would discuss cross-border road connections as well as infrastructure modernization.
“We will approach the talks earnestly and sincerely,” he said, promising to “come back with good results.”
The talks are the first of their kind since February 2008.
Referring to past talks covering the same topic, Kim added that the two would also resume discussions last held a decade ago over various specific cross-border corridors, including existing stalled projects.
One such project could see Pyongyang connected to Seoul through a revival of the Munsan-Kaesong highway project.
The South Korean government in 2015 said it would restart work on the planned highway, though progress stalled in the aftermath of North Korea’s fourth nuclear test and rising inter-Korean tensions the following year.
March, however, saw the Korea Expressway Corp., a state-run organization under MOLIT, announce it would set up a task force to explore the possibility of restarting the project, with a statement by the transport ministry later saying it was expected to be completed by 2020.
Today’s meeting follows separate inter-Korean discussions on Tuesday over cross-border railway connections, also led by Vice Minister Kim.
Those talks continued late into the evening, resulting in Seoul and Pyongyang agreeing to modernize and connect railway systems between the two countries on both the east and west coasts of the peninsula and to commence the project “at the earliest possible date.”
This week’s working-level talks see the two Koreas continue the lengthy process of implementing inter-Korean agreements first laid out in April’s Panmunjom Declaration.
That agreement saw the two countries commit to executing various projects previously agreed in the 2007 October 4 Declaration.
Specifically, it committed to adopting “practical steps towards the connection and modernization of the railways and roads on the eastern transportation corridor as well as between Seoul and Sinuiju” in the northwest corner of North Korea.
Meetings between Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in ahead of the release of the joint statement also saw the DPRK leader make a rare reference to his country’s “defective transportation.”
President Moon at the talks reportedly said that the two Koreas could use a “high-speed railroad” if their networks were connected in the near-future.
Any form of large-scale economic cooperation between the two Koreas would, however, risk infringing international sanctions against the DPRK – an obstacle acknowledged by the South’s unification minister on Wednesday.
But research published by the state-funded Korea Institute for National Unification (KINU) last week, Hong Jae-hwan, Research Fellow of the North Korean Research Division, said that highway projects may not, in some circumstances, run afoul of current international sanctions.
Hong said that projects such as the Munsan-Kaesong stretch and also the cross-border Gangneung-Jejin section along the east coast are currently subject to sanctions, but that a UN sanctions committee could grant exceptions to allow them to move forward.
According to Hong, UN Security Council Resolution 2375 provides that this sanctions committee would “favorably evaluate non-commercial, public infrastructure projects,” possibly allowing inter-Korean highway and railway projects to resume.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
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Featured Image: by nknews_hq on 2018-01-11 20:19:53