Pyongyang appears to have realized the need to improve relations with Seoul and officials from the South participated in a ceremony in Kaesong for talks on a rail link. This is a town on the border, and the delegation of 100 officials arrived by train. Both the sides have examined the existing rail network in North Korea. Most of it is of early 20th-century vintage, and Pyongyang is interested in upgrading it. This is an example of the progress on bilateral ties that is continuing in spite of a deadlock on the subject of denuclearization.

The Guardian reports about the team from Seoul which is discussing with its counterpart in the hermit kingdom on the feasibility of bettering relationship between the two Koreas.

This is in keeping with the broad objective of improving bilateral relations. South Korean president Moon Jae-in is a liberal who is in favor of engagement with Pyongyang to ease tensions in the region.

Tensions in the Korean peninsula must end

Kim Jong-un, the leader of North Korea, had met US President Donald Trump in Singapore in June. At that summit, Kim had agreed for denuclearization. However, the progress made on that front is still not clear. There have been no follow-up talks for several months between the US and North Korea. In fact, the US has slapped sanctions against some senior figures in the regime. That has not gone down well with the North who views it as a “deliberate provocation” and warns that it could have severe repercussions for denuclearization.

The proposed rail link between North and South Korea could be a great help to normalize relations. In the first-ever meeting between Kim Jong-un with Moon Jae-in held in April, Kim agreed that the condition of his country’s railway was in an “embarrassing” state.

There is no date set for the commencement of work on the joint rail and road projects. However, the unification ministry of South Korea has stressed that the ceremony was an “expression of a commitment” and was reminded that its success would depend on the progress made with regard to denuclearization. Reps from Russia, China, and Mongolia, attended the meeting at Kaesong because such a link could bring the Korean peninsula closer to Europe via the Trans-Siberian Railway.

It all depends on denuclearization

According to Fox News, in December 2007, a freight service started between South Korea and the North. Its purpose was to support operations in a joint factory park located in Kaesong. The South made use of the trains to move construction materials to the North while bringing back the products made at the factory park. The service stopped in November 2008 because of political tensions that stemmed from the nuclear ambitions of North Korea. Subsequently, the Kaesong setup shut its doors in February 2016.

Restarting the rail link could help ease tension in the Korean peninsula but it will be a long drawn process and will require large-scale investment. That can happen only if sanctions are lifted which, in turn, will depend on denuclearization. The ball is in the court of Kim Jong-un.