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Putin presses for Asia-Europe rail

By Agencies in Seoul | China Daily | Updated: 2013-11-14 07:30

Ambitious 'Iron Silk Road' plan to unite ROK, DPRK and Russia

Russian President Vladimir Putin was in the Republic of Korea on Wednesday pushing for a new trade route linking Asia and Europe by rail and requiring the involvement of a port in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

The ambitious scheme envisages an "Iron Silk Road" uniting the rail networks of the ROK and the DPRK and connecting them to Europe via the Trans-Siberian Railway.

But the prospects for the project are uncertain, given the volatility of ROK-DPRK relations and the international community's endeavors to contain the DPRK's nuclear ambitions through UN sanctions.

Speaking at an ROK-Russia business conference during his one-day visit, Putin acknowledged the difficulties but said they were outweighed by the project's potential advantages.

"I hope political problems will be solved at an early date, as South Korea, North Korea and Russia will reap great economic benefits when it's completed," Putin said, urging DPRK investors to come on board.

"This project, if accomplished, will help make a great contribution to the establishment of peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula," he added.

During the summit with his ROK counterpart Park Geun-hye, Putin witnessed the signing of a memorandum of understanding to allow three ROK firms - steelmaker POSCO, shipper Hyundai Merchant Marine and state-run Korea Railroad Corp - to take part in the projects of Rajin-Khasan rail track management and Rajin port development.

The three companies will decide on their participation after conducting a due diligence analysis in the first half of 2014, the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae said in a statement.

The 54-km Rajin-Khasan railway, which links the DPRK's northeastern port city of Rajin to its nearby Russian town Khasan, was reopened in September after renovations were completed.

It reconnected the port to Russia's Trans-Siberian Railway, opening the door for ROK exporters to transport goods first by sea and move them by railway to as far as Europe.

Located in the far northeast, where the borders of the DPRK, Russia and China converge, Rajin offers a warm-water port for the DPRK's two giant neighbors.

Putin wants to see the rail link extended through the DPRK and all the way down to the southern ROK port of Busan.

Media reports said Russia is looking for Seoul to take a 34 percent share in the project, with Moscow holding 36 percent and Pyongyang 30 percent.

Cautious observers highlighted the precedent of the Kaesong Industrial Complex - jointly run by the DPRK and the ROK - to show the uncertain prospects that the new project faces. Pyongyang unilaterally shut down the complex in April as military tensions surged.

The zone reopened in September, but ROK factory owners said they lost a small fortune during the five-month closure.

AFP - Xinhua

 Putin presses for Asia-Europe rail

Republic of Korea President Park Geun-hye (right) shakes hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin during their meeting at the presidential Blue House in Seoul on Wednesday. Putin is pushing for a rail link from the ROK to Russia. Jung Yeon-je / Reuters

(China Daily 11/14/2013 page11)

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