About the Author
Dagyum Ji is a senior NK News correspondent based in Seoul. She previously worked for Reuters TV.
Pyongyang and Seoul on Monday agreed to push for a groundbreaking ceremony connecting and modernizing inter-Korean road and rail to take place between late November and early December.
In a joint press statement following high-level talks at Panmunjom, the two Koreas said the ceremony would connect transport infrastructure on the eastern and western coast of the peninsula within the year – a key agreement in last month’s Pyongyang agreement.
They also agreed to push ahead with a joint on-site survey of the Gyeongui and Donghae railway lines from late October and early November respectively.
The South Korean presidential office last month said Seoul would hold a consultation with the United Nations Command (UNC) to begin on-site surveys this month, with a view to ensuring the road and rail connection ground-breaking could take place within the year.
April’s Panmunjom Declaration saw the two sides agree to the connection and modernization of the Gyeongui line, which connects Seoul and Sinuiju and runs along the peninsula’s western coast, and the Donghae line in the east.
August, however, saw the UNC disallow South Korean trains from crossing the MDL to conduct a joint on-site survey of sections on track between Munsan and Kaesong.
In a separate statement on Monday, the Ministry of Unification (MOU) said Seoul will hold consultations with concerned countries and organizations in order to allow the on-site survey to go ahead “without any setbacks.”
The two Koreas conducted a joint on-site survey of the DPRK section between Kumgangsan Chongnyon (Youth) station in the Mount Kumgang area and the MDL on the eastern coast in July, ahead of the modernization of Donghae railways.
A joint inspection of railway and road connections on the Gyeongui line was carried in July and August.
North Korean chief delegate Ri Son Gwon said the implementation of Monday’s agreement will “largely decide the speed of the improvement of inter-Korean relations.”
“I expect that the… South and North Korean authorities will actively push forward with them with mutual interest so that there will be no setbacks in implementing the agreements… in a concrete manner,” he said.
Though plans for the establishment of a west coast joint special economic zone and an east coast joint special tourism zone weren’t included in Monday’s joint press statement, the MOU said the two Koreas had in talks today “formed consensus” on the issue.
September’s Pyongyang Declaration saw the two Koreas agree to discuss the plans, and to restart cooperation at the Kaesong Industrial Complex (KIC) and Mount Kumgang resort when conditions allowed it.
“Both shared the view to start joint inter-Korean research at the talks, and our side will notify the North of detailed schedule,” the unification ministry said in the statement.
“The joint research and investigation will be pushed forward at the inter-Korean liaison office in connection with the new economic map of the Korean peninsula initiative.”
The “New Economic Map” Initiative — unveiled in July last year — is one of the major policy goals of the Moon administration.
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 on the West Sea coast, and an environment-tourism belt at the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ).
Monday’s talks also saw the two Koreas agree to hold general-level military talks “at an early date.”
That meeting will focus on the establishment and operation of a planned Joint Inter-Korean Military Committee, agreed to in the Agreement on the Implementation of the Historic Panmunjom Declaration in the Military Domain signed as annex to the Pyongyang Declaration last month.
In accordance with that agreement, the North and South Korean militaries are also expected to discuss “terminating military hostile relations in confrontation areas including the demilitarized zone (DMZ).”
Should the general-level talks take place within the year, they will be the third of their kind in 2018, following meetings in June and July.
In Monday’s joint press statement, the two Koreas agreed to hold Red Cross talks at Mount Kumgang in November, where they will discuss the issue of “video reunions and exchange of video messages” between families separated by the Korean War.
The issue of beginning repair works on a facility for reunions in Mount Kumgang will also be discussed.
To begin the full-scale operation of the center, ROK President Moon in September said North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had agreed to hand over South Korean assets at the Mt. Kumgang resort.
In addition to Red Cross talks, Seoul and Pyongyang have agreed to hold sectoral meetings on forestry cooperation and health and medical issues at the inter-Korean liaison office later in the month.
Inter-Korean athletic talks are also expected to go ahead in late October, to discuss joint participation in international games including the 2020 Summer Olympic Games and the joint hosting of the 2032 Summer Olympic Games.
Despite the two Koreas last month agreeing to stage a performance by the Pyongyang Art Troupe in Seoul this month, Monday’s high-level talks did not see any agreement on when that concert would take place.
They did, however, agree to discuss logistics for the event “as soon as possible.”
The two Koreas previously agreed to stage a performance by the Pyongyang Art Troupe in Seoul and to “further promote cultural and artistic exchanges.”
The 140-member North Korean Samjiyon Orchestra led by Hyon Song Wol previously held concerts in Gangneung and Seoul in February.
Speaking at a news conference following the talks on Monday, South Korean Minister of Unification Cho Myoung-gyon said the North Korean side had not expressed any discontent towards the U.S. over the previous delay of the inter-Korean joint survey for road and railway connection.
There was a chance that Seoul may be granted a “comprehensive exemption” by the UN sanctions committee to allow for the renovation of a facility for family reunions at Mount Kumgang, he added.
Cho also said the two Koreas hadn’t discussed plans for a visit by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to Seoul – previously agreed to in the Pyongyang Declaration.
“I believe the discussion on his visit to Seoul will begin at an appropriate time and necessary occasion,” he said.
With regard to the general-level military talks, Cho said the two Koreas had tentatively agreed to hold the meeting “right after” minesweeping in the Joint Security Area (JSA) is completed on October 20.
Edited by Oliver Hotham