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View more articles by Dagyum Ji
Dagyum Ji is a senior NK News correspondent based in Seoul. She previously worked for Reuters TV.
The ROK President on Wednesday said the improvement of North-South relations is not an “incidental effect” of progress in DPRK-U.S. ties and that economic cooperation and peace between the two Koreas will bring about the “true liberation” of the peninsula.
In a speech to mark Korea’s Liberation Day, President Moon Jae-in also pledged to take a “bold step” towards ending the Korean War and the denuclearization of the peninsula when he visits Pyongyang next month.
“Though difficult processes such as the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and economic revitalization await us, there is nothing to fear if we join hands together as we always have,” Moon said in a speech at the National Museum of Korea.
“The courage and determination that helped achieve liberation earlier will bring us true liberation characterized by peace and prosperity going beyond the division,” he continued.
Citing research by the state-run Korea Institute for International Economic Policy (KIEP), the President said inter-Korean economic cooperation could bring in KRW 170 trillion (USD$150 billion) over the next 30 years.
Moon also promised to “establish the inter-Korean relationship with a deeper level of trust” and to promote DPRK-U.S. negotiations on the nuclear issue.
“I believe in the importance of recognition that we are the protagonists in Korean Peninsula-related issues,” he said. “Developments in inter-Korean relations are not an incidental effect of progress in the relationship between the North and the United States.”
Rather, Moon said, the development of the inter-Korean ties was an “impetus to accelerate the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula,” adding that history showed that amicable relations led to reduced tensions on the peninsula.
In his speech, the South Korean President called on the North to completely denuclearize and on the “U.S. to swiftly propel corresponding and comprehensive measures.”
He also emphasized the importance of creating an economic community between the two Koreas, although he reiterated Seoul’s stance that “full-fledged” economic cooperation can be achieved only when the denuclearization of the peninsula takes place.
“It’s true liberation for us to form a single economic community… and to freely travel between the two Koreas, even if political unification is far away,” he said.
“When we realize the dream of peace economy and economic community, our economy can take a new leap. We can bring the day our entire people can live well together forward.”
Moon announced that Seoul aims to hold a groundbreaking ceremony connecting the two Koreas’ railways and roads within the year.
April’s Panmunjom Declaration saw the two Koreas agree to push ahead with the connection, modernization, and utilization of the Donghae (East Sea) and Gyeongui (Seoul-Sinuiju) railways and roads.
“The reconnection of railroads and roads is the beginning of mutual prosperity on the Korean peninsula,” Moon said.
“I propose the creation of the East Asian Railroad Community today, encompassing six Northeast Asian countries and the United States.”
The South Korean President said the plan would lead to the creation of an East Asian energy and economic community, as well as serve as a starting point for a regional peace and security regime.
In his speech, the South Korean President reiterated his plan to establish a “special economic zone for unification” on the border areas in Gyeonggi and Gangwon Province when military tensions are alleviated and a peace treaty is signed.
Seoul will gain huge economic advantages should work at the now-shuttered Kaesong Industrial Complex (KIC) and tourism at Mount Kumgang be resumed, he added, along with projects connecting railways and developing underground resources.
The South Korean government should create 8900 jobs and “achieve the rapid economic growth” of Goseong County in Gangwon Province through Mount Kumgang tourism, Moon said, adding the KIC had been a “rich repository” of jobs for around 100,000 people.
One of the major policy tasks of the Moon administration is the “New Economic Map” Initiative and to see the economic unification of the Korean peninsula.
That initiative would see three economic belts connect the two Koreas: an energy-resource belt on the East Sea coast, an industrial-logistics and distribution-transportation belt in the West Sea coast, and an environment-tourism belt at the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ).
Reacting to the speech, one South Korean expert said Moon’s comments can be positively assessed in the sense that they showed an “active approach toward North Korean issues.”
“But it is necessary for the South Korean government to clarify what the concept of ‘complete denuclearization’ of the Korean peninsula means… to promote the DPRK-U.S. nuclear talks,” Cheong Seong-chang, Vice President of Research Planning at the Sejong Institute, said.
Cheong said Seoul needs to “propose a practical roadmap on how to realize that goal.”
“If Seoul has the stance that a peace treaty can only be signed when complete denuclearization is achieved, it’s difficult for concerned countries to predict when a peace treaty will be concluded even if they declare the end of the war this year,” he continued.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured Image: Blue House