North and South Korea are pushing railway cooperation as an engine for advancing inter-Korean relations. Railway connections could integrate the peninsula into a network that spans the continent, marking a significant diplomatic and geopolitical accomplishment. However, significant obstacles still remain.
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On September 18, 2018, the Reconnecting Asia Project and the Korea International Trade Association (KITA) hosted “Looking North: Korea in a Reconnecting Asia,” a half-day conference that explored Korea’s ambitious plans for connectivity.
Since China announced its ambitious Belt and Road Initiative in 2013, South Korea has actively pursued international initiatives that are independent of Chinese goals and priorities. In particular, the Moon administration’s two-pronged infrastructure vision, dubbed the “New Northern” and “New Southern” Policies, offers insights into how midsize powers in Asia might navigate growing geopolitical uncertainty in the region.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in is today starting a four-day state visit to China that could be a major opportunity to improve strained bilateral relations amid intense concern about North Korea’s nuclear program.
In October, CSIS launched its Reconnecting Asia project, which seeks to track the various initiatives by China, Russia, Japan, South Korea, and other growing Asian powers to reconnect Asia and Europe via old trade routes. These modern-day Silk Roads will use highways, railroads, ports, bridges, and pipelines to reduce the travel time between the two continents. The best known of these initiatives is China’s “One Belt, One Road” in Central Asia. This is an ambitious undertaking across 43 countries that encompasses 69 percent of the global population and 60 percent of global gross domestic product (GDP). The efforts to reconnect Asia with Europe will be one of the biggest forces shaping the next 30 years, bringing new markets, people, and resources into the fabric of the global geopolitical landscape. If successful, it will revolutionize logistics and create trillions of dollars in economic value through increased trade and economic activity.