February 2018 marked the start of a “peaceful Spring” for the two Koreas. While clearly communicating its intentions to its neighbors, South Korea led the way in starting the inter-Korean dialogue and was instrumental in gathering support from the international community for the talks. President Moon Jae In’s yielding of the Nobel Prize to President Donald Trump was a clear expression of the intention he has to achieve peace on the Korean Peninsula, and is another example of his belief and genuine drive to bring about Korean unification.
Through the 2018 inter-Korean summit, the two Koreas have announced the opening of an “era of peace” on the Korean Peninsula to the world and succeeded in turning Panmunjom, formerly a symbol of the pain Korea has suffered through division, into a symbol of peace. The international community has actively supported this change and sent well wishes to the two Koreas. With the announcement of the upcoming US-DPRK (abbreviation for North Korea’s formal name) summit, the clock of peace is ticking ever faster.
The US-DPRK and inter-Korean summits have raised the possibility that the two Koreas will reach an internationally recognized milestone in the fall. South Korea’s business community understands that North Korea can be a new source of economic growth and is planning accordingly. They will need to approach business in North Korea strategically and with a proper understanding of the plans laid out by the North and South Korean governments.
South Korea’s economic plans are focused on building infrastructure in North Korea. The infrastructure to be built on the western Korean coast, eastern coast and the central region cover the entire Korean Peninsula and there are plans to complete a railway-based “Silk Road” into China and Russia. The government aims to develop the west coast, which connects Pyongyang, Sinuiju and China, into a “Transportation and Logistics Business Belt”; the east coast rim that connects Wonsan, Hamhung and Russia into an “Energy and Resource Belt”; and the North Korea-China border area, which connects the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) and Unification Economic Zone into an “Environmental and Tourism Belt.” North Korea’s government aims to designate new central government and provincial government-led economic development zones and will place development of infrastructure in these zones as its top priority.
The USB that President Moon gave to Chairman Kim Jong Un after the inter-Korean summit reportedly holds information about the “New Korean Peninsula Economic Road Map.” It is expected that North Korea will review this roadmap and propose a Korean Peninsula Economic Development Strategy that is an updated version of the country’s Five Year National Economic Development Strategy, which is now in its third year. There will likely be difficulties in creating specifics about this Road Map, but if the vision and goals are decided within a broad framework and adopted as an agenda item during a future high-level meeting, the Road Map will complete the Korean Peninsula Economic Development Strategy with input from South Korea.
North Korea has very underdeveloped infrastructure, which will make it likely that various infrastructure projects will be included in the Development Strategy. The plateauing South Korean economy will use North Korea as an opportunity for new economic growth and South Korean businesses will actively participate in the development of North Korea. There will be opportunities to develop railways and roads that connect North Korea, China and Russia, and major infrastructure projects for South Korean companies involved in electricity, water supply, and telecommunications in economic development zones.
North Korea will enjoy the benefits of development that will push it into becoming a modern and civilized country. To bring North Korea into the “smart era,” new infrastructure in the country will be led by ICT-driven development based on convenient, environmentally-friendly, and intelligent technology. The benefits of development will be enjoyed by North Koreans and newly-arrived South Korean migrants. Now, the only thing left is for the two Korean governments to move forward with determination to improve the lives of their citizens.
*Views expressed in Guest Columns do not necessarily reflect those of Daily NK.