South Korea is seeking to revive its ambitious goal of connecting rail system to as far as the Far East of Russia by crossing North Korea in follow-up measures to agreements from summit meetings with North Korea and Russia.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin during a summit in Moscow on June 22 discussed use of the Rajin-Khasan railway connecting the North Korean northeastern port of Rajin with the Russian eastern border town of Khasan, according to a high-ranking government official who asked not to be named.
Song Young-gil, head of the Presidential Committee on Northern Economic Cooperation on Thursday left for Vladivostok to press on with the project, the source said.
A consortium of South Korean companies Posco, Hyundai Merchant Marine, and state railway operator Korail sought to purchase a 49 percent stake in RasonConTrans, a joint venture between North Korea and Russia. But the bid stumbled under UN sanctions following North Korea’s nuclear test.
Although South Korea cannot pursue economic ventures despite reconciliatory mood following the April 27 inter-Korean summit, the Rajin-Khasan rail project has been exempted from the UN sanctions banning joint ventures with North Korea due to strong urging from Moscow, which seats on the UN Security Council.
The UNSC Resolution 2375 states “(the sanction) provision shall not apply with respect to…the Russia-DPRK Rajin-Khasan port and rail project solely to export Russia-origin coal.”
The South Korean consortium hopes to join the project to build, expand, and repair 54-kilometer stretch to connect the border ports of North Korea and Russia through financing backed by the Inter-Korea Cooperation Fund, set up to finance economic cooperation and social/cultural exchange between the two Koreas. The interest in the project would likely require $350 million.
The Rajin-Khasan project is pivotal to Seoul’s envisioning of rail connection through North Korea up to Russia for easier ground access to the European continent.
Last month, officials of two Koreas agreed to have joint inspection on the conditions of railroads in the North to explore rail modernization.
By Park Eui-myung and Cho Jeehyun
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