North, South Korea moving on joint projects including reunions of families
iStock/Thinkstock(SEOUL) — A mass reunion of families separated by the North-South Korea border. Restoration of severed military communications lines. Joint transportation projects between the two countries.
North and South Korean officials are charging ahead with these and other initiatives to capitalize on the recent momentum for peace and cooperation between their respective governments.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un have met twice this year followed by Kim’s separate meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump earlier this month.
They are among a barrage of North-South cooperative moves are planned for the next few months, and Seoul is already discussing the need to raise funds to pay for them. Here is some of what is in the works.
Restoration of military communication lines
Colonels from North and South Korea agreed to “quickly” restore the military communication lines as part of an effort to build trust and reduce tensions. The South’s defense ministry said in a press release Monday, “Both North and South agreed that restoration is the most urgent task ahead of carrying out the agreed terms of Panmunjom declaration.”
This was the first meeting of officials at the colonel level in more than seven years. It was organized to fulfill the agreement made during the general-level military meeting that occurred in June. The two Koreas agreed to restore both western and eastern communication lines in the hopes of preventing future misunderstandings.
The working-level meeting took place on Monday at the Customs, Immigration, and Quarantine office at the border in Paju. Army colonel Cho Yong-geun from the South and Colonel Om Chang-nam from the North participating as the top delegates.
Cross-border family reunion
The South Korean Red Cross randomly selected 500 people to be reviewed to participate in the family reunion event. Around 57,000 candidates who have been separated from their families registered for this draw. More than half of those who registered are over the age of 90.
Until July 3, the 500 selected candidates will be given a chance to send letters to inquire whether their separated family members in North Korea are still alive. By July 25, the separated family members in both the North and South will have exchanged confirmation letters with answers.
The South Korean Red Cross will pick the final list of reunion participants on Aug. 4. Only a hundred from each side will be chosen to reunite with their parted family members.
The cross-border family reunion in Mt. Kumgang will commence Aug. 20 for one week. This week, the South Korean government plans to send an advance team to the Mount Kumgang reunion venue to ensure standards are met.
Railway and road cooperation
Cooperation meetings on inter-Korean transport are expected to take place this week. Two separate sessions regarding railways and roads will discuss the possibilities of a cross-border railway line and road that would bridge the two countries.
A cornerstone in President Moon Jae-In’s “new economic map for the Korean peninsula” is to modernize the roads and railways in North Korea to connect with the inter-Korean traffic network. If carried out as planned, this new “map” will lead to better prospects for both countries as these new railways will connect the Korean Peninsula to Russia and other parts of Europe.
This is not the first time that plans a joint-venture railway were discussed.
At the second-ever inter-Korean summit between then-President Roh Moo-hyun of South Korea and late North Korean leader Kim Jong Il in 2007, an agreement called the October 4th joint declaration called for cooperation in the Kaesong-Sinuiju railway and Kaesong-Pyongyang road.
The current leaders of the two countries, President Moon and Chairman Kim, mentioned again in their Panmunjom declaration that the two Koreas will cooperate in carrying out the agreed terms of the October 4th declaration.
A cooperation meeting on forestry is set for next week. The high-level discussion between North and South Korea in the beginning of June concluded that deforestation in the region is becoming an urgent problem.
According to the South’s Forest Service, 32 percent of North Korean forest is now desolate. Countless trees were cut down to be used as a source of energy in North Korea, leaving the mountains bare, while no forest-recovery plan was provided by the regime. Without the forest, trees could not store water after rain, which led to bouts of drought and flooding.
Joint sports events
Pyongyang will host four basketball matches for two consecutive days next week. This is the first time in 15 years that athletes from both Koreas will meet on a basketball court. It was announced Monday that the exhibition games will include North and South Korea’s competition against each other and also a match between mixed teams. The games are expected to be broadcast on a tape delay.
The two Koreas also agreed to march together under a single flag at the opening and closing ceremonies of the upcoming Asian Games in Indonesia. Considering that the final roster submission is due at the end of June, it is unlikely that North and South will enter the competition as a joint team.
On Monday, the ruling Democratic Party of South Korea announced the need to increase the annual budget of the Inter-Korean Cooperation fund. Since 2008, the fund has had an estimated budget of 1 trillion won, with that amount decreasing slightly over the past two years. An official from the party has stated that with recent developments with North Korea, it is inevitable that the budget will be raised as both countries are expected to interact with one another at an unprecedented level.
However, last month Unification Minister Cho Myoung-Gyon stated that the 1 trillion won budget, less than 30 percent of the money remains available and that a proper review was necessary before a concrete proposal is drawn up.
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