South Korean President Moon Jae-in speaks during a celebration for Korean Liberation Day, marking the 73rd anniversary of liberation from the Japanese colonial rule, in Seoul, on Wednesday. (Lee Jin-man/AP)
TOKYO — South Korean President Moon Jae-in pledged on Wednesday to establish road and rail links with North Korea soon, as a first step toward the sort of regional economic integration Europe established after World War II.
Moon will travel to Pyongyang next month for his third meeting this year with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, and he pledged the two would take an “audacious step” toward the signing of a peace treaty and the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
Moon spoke during a ceremony to mark the 73rd anniversary of the liberation of the Korean Peninsula from Japanese colonial rule. He said good relations between the two Koreas would be the “driving force” toward the denuclearization of the peninsula.
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He also said he wants to see groundbreaking ceremonies before the end of this year to establish road and rail links between the two Koreas, links that would cross what is one of the world’s most heavily militarized borders.
“The reconnection of railroads and roads is the beginning of mutual prosperity on the Korean Peninsula,” Moon said.
That in turn could pave the way for an East Asian railroad community, encompassing six Northeast Asian countries and the United States, he said. Although he did not specify the countries, it is likely to mean both Koreas, China, Russia, Japan and Mongolia.
“The Community will expand the horizon of the Korean economy to the northern part of the continent and become the main artery of mutual prosperity in Northeast Asia,” Moon said. “It will then lead to the creation of East Asian energy and economic communities. Moreover, it will initiate a Northeast Asian multilateral peace and security system.”
Moon compared this initiative to the gradually expanding ties that Europe instituted after World War II, starting with a six-nation coal and steel community and eventually culminating in the European Union.
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He also proposed the establishment of “special unification economic zones” in border regions.
Moon’s remarks will be closely scrutinized in Washington for signs he might be jumping the gun. The Trump administration wants to keep up sanctions pressure on North Korea until the regime dismantles its nuclear weapons program. So far, there has been no real sign it is doing so.
Min Joo Kim in Seoul contributed to this report.
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