Things appear to be changing in the Korean peninsula as the two Koreas are trying to mend relations. It all began with the New Year when Kim Jong-un reopened the hot line after a long time. Now, with the year in its last leg, South Korea has dispatched an expert team to the North to examine feasibility of an inter-Korean rail link that will bring the North and South closer. Such a link will benefit both sides and bring about opportunities to improve economics. It could help North Korean factories explore markets in the South, and open up the doors for South Korean exporters to tap markets in China and Eurasia.

For this to become a reality, Pyeongyang must go in for denuclearization.

CNN reports that in view of existing sanctions on north korea, the train from Seoul must carry their own fuel and supplies and bring back any spare fuel left over from the trip. This trip is part of a joint study to inspect the North's aged railway system.

Train tracks in the North need upgrading

The decision to help Pyongyang rebuild its railway system is the result of a number of summit meetings between Kim Jong-un and Moon Jae-in. The aim is to wean the North away from pursuing its nuclear weapons program. Hence, the team from Seoul has gone to Pyongyang to assess the magnitude of the problem. South Korea took such an action in 2007 when their inspectors conducted a similar exercise.

However, the present exercise will be more elaborate.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in has always been in favor of reunification. In the course of a speech last year, he promised that the "severed inter-Korean railway will be connected again." His dream is to see a train pass through both the Koreas and go to destinations in nearby countries to boost trade and commerce.

These will need financing of a high order. Since North Korea is still facing international sanctions due to its nuclear ambitions, it is not clear how work can be undertaken. Obviously, South Korea must impress upon the North to abandon its nuclear programs so that sanctions can be lifted and development activities can start.

North must abandon its nuclear ambitions

According to Washington Post, there used to be freight services between the two Koreas from December 2007 until November 2008. It was to support factories in a joint economic zone at Kaesong in North Korea. This was discontinued in 2008 and the setup closed down in 2016 when relations touched rock bottom due to Kim’s nuclear programs that led to international sanctions. Therefore, in order to send its team to the North to study the railway network, Seoul had to get special permission from the United Nations. South Korea is trying to improve relations with the North and will have to convince Kim’s regime to abandon its nuclear ambitions and go in for denuclearization.