By Cheng Yuyi and He Cong
According to a report of Yonhap News Agency on November 28, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) and the Republic of Korea (ROK) would officially kick off joint railway inspection of 1,200 kilometers in 18 days from November 30.
The ROK’s Unification Minister Cho Myung-gyon said that the DPRK and the ROK will achieve prosperity through the interconnected railway system, which will in turn benefit regional peace. The United Nations (UN) Security Council ruled on November 23 that it would exempt some sanctions against the DPRK under the DPRK-ROK railway docking project.
A number of military mitigation measures were also taken by the DPRK and the ROK. In mid-November, the DPRK and the ROK militaries dismantled each side’s 10 sentry posts located in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) in accordance with the September 19th Military Agreement.
On November 30, the ROK Defense Ministry said that in view of the old communications equipment of the DPRK, the ROK side had provided relevant equipment to the DPRK on November 29 in order to ensure smooth military communication lines on western Korean Peninsula.
Recently, the DPRK-ROK relations has made breakthroughs and the situation on the Korean Peninsula has been eased. On September 19, the DPRK’s supreme leader Kim Jong Un held talks with the ROK’s President Moon Jae-in in Pyongyang, signed the September Pyongyang Joint Declaration, and held a joint press conference.
They have reached new and important consensuses in terms of improving relations between the two countries, easing military tension in the region, pushing forward the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and the process of peace talks, and further promoting the reconciliation and cooperation between the two countries.
In addition to the agreement on easing border military confrontation, the DPRK and the ROK have also further clarified future specific cooperation programs in areas of economy, tourism, health, culture, and sports, including a groundbreaking ceremony within this year in a bid to eventually connect railways and roads across the border along the eastern and western Korean Peninsula, enabling the normal operation of the Kaesong Industrial Complex (KIC) and the Mount Kumgang Tourism Project when conditions permit, promoting cooperation in preventing infectious diseases and other fields of healthcare, and making joint efforts to bid for the 2032 Summer Olympics.
The rapid development of the DPRK-ROK relations has made the United States uncomfortable. For the US, close DPRK-ROK ties mean that the US will “increasingly be marginalized” on the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue.
There are still uncertainties in the US-DPRK and even the DPRK-ROK relations, despite the meeting between the leaders of the DPRK and the United States in June, and the visit of the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to the DPRK in October with some progress made.
In addition, the DPRK and the US have been stuck over which comes first: the “removal of US sanctions imposed on the DPRK” or the “abandonment of nuclear projects by the DPRK”.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo publicly warned at the press conference of the first session of the ROK-US working group on November 20 that the development of DPRK-ROK ties should not over speed. According to Reuters’ report on November 21, Pompeo said the day before that: “We have clearly stated to the Republic of Korea that the US hopes to ensure peace and denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula, which should not lag behind the development of the DPRK-ROK relations.”
In addition, the UN Security Council plans to hold the fifth annual meeting on human rights issues of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea in December driven by the US, which has triggered dissatisfaction from the DPRK. The DPRK’s permanent representative to the UN sent a letter to all UN Security Council members except the US, calling on these member states to vote against the holding of the meeting, and expressing his surprise and regret over the UN Security Council’s “intention of deviating from the current trend of striving for dialogue, peace, and stability”.
Obviously, under the trend of seeking security, stability, cooperation, and mutual benefit, the situation on the Korean Peninsula is being eased. The DPRK and the ROK have once again launched a railway docking inspection to promote economic cooperation to expand beyond sanctions.
However, we are not sure whether the DPRK-ROK railway docking and transformation project can proceed smoothly due to the impact of UN sanctions and America’s policy towards the DPRK. What’s more, the future development of the DPRK-ROK ties and the situation on the Korean Peninsula still face many uncertainties.
Disclaimer: The authors are Cheng Yuyi and He Cong. The article was published on the China's National Defense newspaper on December 5. It is translated from Chinese into English and edited by the China Military online.