NORTH and South Korea are looking to rekindle their long-estranged relationship with a project to reconnect railways and roads across the divided peninsula which have been cut off this the 1950-53 Korean War, but the construction of the plan could not start until sanctions against the north remain in place.
On Wednesday, the two Koreas held a symbolic groundbreaking ceremony that took place among a series of measures to improve bilateral relations agreed upon in September by South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un.
Seoul maintained that the ceremony did not mark the start of work on reconnecting and modernising the infrastructure between the two countries, which were still technically at war after the conflict ended with a ceasefire and not a peace treaty.
A South Korean Unification Ministry spokesman said the launch was a mere “expression of a commitment”, adding the construction depended on “progress on the North’s denuclearisation and circumstances concerning sanctions”.
However, Kim Yun Hyok, the North’s top railway official reiterated Pyongyang’s stance in insisting the South stop toeing the US line on maintaining sanctions on the North until it gives up its nuclear weapons.
“If (the South) keeps looking around to check someone’s mood and continues wavering, reunification would never be achieved,” Kim said at the ceremony at the Panmun railway station in the North’s border city of Kaesong, as quoted by the AFP.
After his remarks, about a dozen delegates from both the North and the South stood along the railroad and pulled yellow levers to link up the railway tracks in a symbolic gesture.
South Korea had reportedly set aside US$620,000 for the effort, which is another example of the thaw in relations between the Koreas.
However, major economic initiatives have yet to take off as the North has been sluggish on fulfilling its denuclearisation pledge.
Kim had earlier agreed to work toward denuclearisation at a summit with US President Donald Trump in June, but negotiations have made little headway.
Pyongyang has expressed anguish at Washington’s insistence that sanctions remain until the North takes concrete steps to give up its nuclear arsenal.
“The South is trying to build on existing agreements, believing that advancing inter-Korean ties would have a positive impact on denuclearisation,” said Shin Beom-chul, a senior fellow at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul, as quoted by Reuters.
“But given the absence of actual construction, the North will keep pressing the South to make it happen despite sanctions, in line with Kim’s efforts to shore up his regime,” he added.