Global Lounge is a newly introduced column in Chonnam Tribune for the 271st issue. This column will cover various globalization-related issues in the form of debate or discussion. For the first time, Tribune chose ECHO after examining the discussion proposals of other competing candidates. This column is open to every student organization.
As things stand at present, it is impossible to transport goods or passengers overland to/from South Korea due to the partition of the Korean peninsula. Also, it takes longer than one month to send goods to Europe by sea. So if South and North Korea were reunified and we used the TCR (Trans-China Railway) or TSR (Trans-Siberia Railroad), we could easily transport goods by train. For these reasons, both the TCR and TSR stand in a lucrative business position, as does the TKR (Trans Korea Railway). It is a good chance for China and Russia to make lots of profits from freight and passenger cargo. Besides, it is expected that the Korean railway network can contribute in a good way to the reunification of the two Koreas. As relations between the two develop, TKR business has been solid since Mt. Gumkang opened its door to South Koreans in 1998. It is thought that the TKR will have good effects upon economic conditions both North and South of the demilitarized zone. However, some problems remain as regards connecting them by railway.
Leader: Before we go into the main discussion, I'd like to ask a question. Will you explain the South-North Korea railway system? You can also explain other railways such as the North Korea one, TCR, TSR and TAR.
Kim So-young: The TCR starts at Renwenhwang and passes through Moscow and Berlin. The total distance of the TCR is 12,917 km. In 1956, this railway was constructed for the purpose of connecting the Soviet Union with China. However, its construction was stopped. In 1985, the construction started up again. In 1992, transportation officially started. The TCR uses the standard gauge, and most lines are double-tracked. In comparison with the TSR, this reduces the journey time involved. The TCR passes through the border between China and Russia and leads to Europe. Because of these factors, fares on the trains can be expensive.
Kim Do-young: Let me explain the TSR (Trans Siberian Railroad). This railroad connects the Pacific to the Baltic in Russia and runs from Moscow through Vladivostok. The TSR is the longest single railroad system in the world. The main purpose for using the TSR is to develop Siberia’s potential resources. Siberia is regarded as the last repository of natural resources along with Africa. Basically, Russia has priority over the right to use these resources. However, due to a poor transportation infra-structure, it is hard to transport raw materials and capitalize on the resources. To transport and export the resources more effectively, Russia has tried to extend the TSR.
Leader: Countries around Korea such as Russia and China are concerned with the TKR. Besides, Japan dreams of connecting to the Asian mainland by the construction of an undersea tunnel between the Korean peninsula and Japan. Anyhow, it is obvious that connection of the TKR to the TAR will have critical effects on certain countries in many ways. So, could you give a briefing on the countries' positions with regard to businesses connected to the railways?
Yoon Sung-soon: In November 1999, China and Korean signed a railway-convention contract. They expected that they could expand exportation of over-land resources. If a cross cut road is built, Chinese financial circumstances would improve dramatically. They would make much money by collecting railroad fares and their economy would improve due to rail transportation.
Chae Man-kee: Japan has planned to connect their railroad with the Trans Siberian Railroad, connecting Hokkaido and the Tatar Strait. This plan includes constructing two undersea tunnels. If this plan is realized, they can go to Russia and Europe by train without passing through the Korean Peninsula. In addition, not only can they reduce transportation costs but they may also be able to develop resources in Siberia.
Yoon Mi: Russian President, Vladimir Putin suggested to Kim Jung-il to join the ambitious railway project. If North Korea promotes the railway project, in accordance with the Russian plan the Russian government would help North Korea establish the rail route. From a political viewpoint, the Russian government would like to restore its past influential position on the Korean Peninsula. That’s why its government has a positive attitude towards the TKR.
Leader: The Korean government should resolve the problems related to the connection of the South-North Korean Railways and TKR-TSR. Do you think that the government will do this and that South Korea can take the initiative in Asia?
Choi Eun-young: I have a positive point of view on this matter. Even though the Korean peninsula is divided into two countries, North and South Korea at present, unlike in the past, the two countries have kept on negotiating with each other. Consequently, I find hope in connecting the continents by opening up the railway systems. I think that the two countries are aware of the economic benefits. If the two countries are connected to each other and cooperate in business ventures, the Korean peninsula can become a world-wide hub in the near future. To persuade North Korea, South Korea should make every effort possible.
Lim Hyun-joo: I think that if we succeed in the TKR business, Korea could become an initiative for most Asian countries. If we can across North Korea, we can reduce huge transport expenses for lots of goods and expand this new horizon into the international field. For the last 5 years, the Korean government has expended a lot of effort to gain the chance to connect the Southern railway with North. This TKR project could connect Korea with continental Asia, and even reach Europe. Korea is geographically placed in the center of the world, so we would be able to take advantage of this position.
Kim Youl: I think that the Korean government cannot solve the pending problems related to the TKR. The main reason is that North Korea requires too much money to carry out the TKR plan. In addition, North Korea has never tried to form close relationships with other countries, and the issue of nuclear weapons is still on the table. Nevertheless, I think it's high time to establish the TKR. From a long-term viewpoint, the TKR is more necessary for a bright future because of the knock-on effects it would cause. Therefore, if we maintain good relationships with Russia and China, North Korea may change their long-established foreign policy and open up their regime. They have no choice without opening their market in the globalization era.
Hong Min-ho: I have a negative view on the TKR project. First of all, I want to focus on North Korea's infrastructure for that section of the railway. As you know, North Korean construction concerning railways is so inferior compared to that of the South. To connect the rail lines between North and South Korea, South Korea would have to invest enormous amounts of capital in improvement of the system in NK. Second, NK and SK have different railroad signals. NK still uses the hand-operated signal system, while SK has the state-of-the-art automatic signal system. Therefore, we only can use diesel-powered trains on the TKR.
Leader: As you know, a trial train service between South-North Korea can be initiated. Even though the train may come into service, there would be difficulties in carrying goods from SK to other countries by train via NK. Then, what should SK do to iron out the problems?
Park Hong-joo: It's certain that the construction of the TAR will cost an astronomical amount of money. Therefore, the government should take the break-even point into consideration prior to launching the TAR. To attract lucrative business, the government should set up tourist strategies and get ready to attract lots of tourists and trade goods. Actually, other Asian countries such as Singapore, India and so on have agreed on a FTA with western countries. What's worse, China takes a cut on everything; steel, gas, appliances, and so on. Korea lags behind in some ways. That's why I suggest that the government should negotiate with other Asian and European countries for a FTA.
Oh Jae-chul: The SK government has to make a consortium for renovating and building the NK railway system with the Chinese and Russian governments. Not only the SK government but the Chinese and Russians also want to connect their railways to SK and NK because they can transport products more cheaply. By making a consortium with other countries, we will be able to cut down on our expenses.
Kim Do-young: At first, we should consider its potential ripple effects. To put the TKR project into reality, whether there are many difficulties with regards to economic or political issues or not, it is certain that SK can gain unprecedented profits and become the most important hub for East-Asian interchange. Considering the expectant effects, the SK government shouldn’t hesitate to accelerate this project. Starting from the agreement, we should try to exhort the NK authorities to put the TKR project into effect more actively. Considering NK has suffered from poverty for several decades, they will accept suggestions from SK on how to solve their economic difficulties.
Geographically, Korea can be the entry point of such continents as Asia, Europe, and America. The three countries located in northeast Asia, Korea, Japan and China, are competing to become a world hub. To seize the initiative, Korea should set about the business of the Trans Korea Railway (TKR) before everything else. Most of all, the business should be carried out on the recognition that NK is our sister country tied by blood. The SK government should do everything as long as economic and politics circumstances permit it, to co-operate with the relevant countries including Russia, China and North Korea. The gain which NK would expectedly get from the TKR can remove hurdles to reunification of the two Koreas in the long-term. Second, we should increase the number of container cranes and peripheral infrastructure which lie in Busan port to accelerate influxes of foreign goods. In spite of the fact that Busan port has the most suitable conditions for transportation such as a slow ocean current and a large number of port facilities, it still encounters some difficulties in handling freight. China and Japan have tried to set up better conditions to compete as regards carrying materials. Materials and products from foreign countries would come naturally into our hands by strengthening port competitiveness. Third, we should retrieve all the remaining land mines buried in the demilitarized zone (known as the DMZ). The density of land mines in this zone is the highest in the world. The SK government has pledged to expand the railway passing through the DMZ. Removing the mines is a big burden on SK when we do the work alone. So we should call for international assistance from humanitarian organizations in order to remove all of them. And then we should reconnect the Seoul-Shinuiju railway line as soon as possible. The TKR is one of the biggest businesses that can influence the future of Korea. We’ve got to put more effort into it and have to be more concerned about this plan.
[# 271 Global Lounge]