The basic purpose of Ri Yonh-ho visit to Beijing was to seek Beijing’s advice on resolving nuclear issues with Washington. He arrived in Beijing on 6 November on a four-day visit. He will discuss North Korea summit with the United States and the visit of North Korea by China’s leaders. Ri also will meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping. China’s advice seems to be more important to understand North Korean relations with the United States and South Korea. From these points of view, North Korean ties are more important. Kim has been on China’s visit since 2018 and Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in connection with the railway connection is an important issue to be discussed between Ri and Xi.
North Korea is learning the method of negotiations from Vietnam. Now North Korea is also learning economic development rather than focusing solely on the nuclear issue. There are UN-led sanctions on North Korea and there is a need to remove them. Other members of the UN are also important to help remove sanctions on North Korea, and this will bring more fruit to denuclearisation and economic development.
At the G-20 Summit, it was decided to pursue a nuclear free North Korea. US President Donald Trump has shown respect for President Kim Jong Un’s view on denuclearisation. The understanding between the United States and China will further enhance understanding on North Korea and bring down many other issues. Despite slow progress, denuclearisation of North Korea is strongly on the cards and many things have been moving around.
President Trump and Kim have been forging a relationship that is essential to diffuse tension on the Korean Peninsula. So far things have proved good and moving. South Korean President Moon Jae-in has led specific efforts for improving military and security ties with his northern neighbour. This optimism looks good.
There is more understanding achieved between South and North Korea. The South’s optimism is more on the way than anything else. As long as relations are good between the two, nothing negative could harm these relations. The second summit level meeting between South and North Korea could further inject more understanding in resolving these issues. Pyongyang denuclearisation is gaining international approval and many countries have endorsed such an option. The logjam is likely to disappear.
The North and South Korea have been moving closer to a rail agreement as well. This agreement has been agreed between Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in. Both countries want to end the war-type situation and move closer. It will be the first time since 2007 a train from the South will enter North Korea. This will be considered the most positive post-negotiation settlement between the two Koreas and reconcile them. During a speech last year, he promised that the “severed inter-Korean railway will be connected again,” adding that one day, “a train departing from Busan and Mokpo will run through Pyongyang and Beijing, and head towards Russia and Europe.”
Hope that both sides will take this project positively. Beijing is likely to provide all kinds of help necessary for the railway connectivity between the two countries. In spite of challenges, Chinese help greatly matters. In future this railways connection will go beyond China, Mongolia and Russia. This route will be more convenient than air and sea cargo between these countries. This will turn the Korean Peninsula situation more pragmatic than anything else.
A set-up similar to the Belt and Road connectivity could be achieved if this project gets through. With increasing technology from China, this project is likely to gain significance in the years to come. More regional integration is likely to be achieved through this project. As a matter of fact, this project has the potential to lift much of passenger and cargo in the region.
South Korea sent a rail into North Korea for the first time in a decade. Under the plan, South Korea wants to set up train link by the end of the year. Once sanctions are lifted, the rail link would become a symbolic gesture of friendship between the two Koreas. Once connected, this will put a new confidence in their mutual relations.
The success of the train would depend on the determination of President Moon, The blockade of North Korean nuclear program and the missile program would be the starting point in running the train between the two countries by providing a faster route to China and Eurasia. This Asian connectivity will be a turning point; to connect this part of Asia with Europe could bring many dividends.
The writer is Consultant at the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad. He writes on East Asian affairs.