At their historic meeting last month, the leaders of North and South Korea held hands, shared noodles and eventually signed a deal that paved the way to peace.
A USB drive holds the key to opening North Korea
But much of that was just symbolism, and a vague commitment to denuclearization on the Korean peninsula.
Yet South Korean president Moon Jae-in had more in mind: a concrete plan to open up his reclusive neighbor to the world.
At their meeting at the fortified border village of Panmunjom on April 27, Moon handed a USB drive carrying the blueprint of economic integration to Kim Jong-un, North Korea’s supreme leader.
Titled the “New Economic Map of the Korean Peninsula,” the proposal suggests the creation of three economic belts:
- One connecting the west coast of the Korean Peninsula to China, making the region a logistical hub,
- One connecting the east coast to Russia, for energy cooperation, and
- One on the current border to promote tourism.
The contents of the drive were confirmed to the South China Morning Post by officials of the South Korean presidential office.
One part of the plan would involve the construction of a rail link starting in Mokpo on the southwest tip of the Korean Peninsula, passing through Seoul and Pyongyang and several other cities before reaching Beijing.
China is already North Korea’s biggest trade partner, and an opening of the North Korean economy could benefit the Chinese provinces along the border, analysts said.
“The northeast has been China’s weakest link and has seen poor economic development for years. A rail link could make a real difference to the region,” said Cheng Xiaohe, a deputy director at the center for international strategic studies at Renmin University.
On Tuesday, Kim flew to the Chinese city of Dalian to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping ahead of his scheduled meeting with US President Donald Trump by early June, possibly in Singapore.
But observers have also cautioned that that the initiatives are dependent on Kim’s acceptance of Seoul’s definition of denuclearization – namely the complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantling of the North’s nuclear program.
Until the UN sanctions on North Korea are lifted, any economic cooperation with the South or other countries will remain limited in scope.
The South’s vision for economic integration hinges on whether Kim is willing to give up his country’s nuclear arsenal.
Yujing Liu contributed reporting