Global Times | 13 June 2018
Getting North Korea on board Belt & Road initiative will be easier than expected
By Hu Weijia
Many think that infrastructure in North Korea is in a dilapidated state, but data from the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) tells a different story and one that indicates that North Korea’s economic potential may have been underestimated.
Getting North Korea into China’s Belt and Road (B&R) initiative will help rebuild its economy and promote regional economic integration.
Economists may have only incomplete information on the North Korean economy. The CIA data showed the total length of North Korea’s railway network reached 7,435 kilometers in 2014, which was about two times that of South Korea, media reports said Wednesday. Although North Korea’s economy remains weak and vulnerable, the nation has some key advantages for integrating itself into regional transport networks.
The country shares borders with both China and South Korea, the latter of which is an important country along the B&R initiative. North Korea’s significant geographical location is likely to offer convenience when involving the isolated country into the trade routes of the region. After US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un signed a document on Tuesday, the world should begin to consider loosening economic sanctions against North Korea in a bid to inject more momentum into political dialogue. Instead of putting pressure on Pyongyang by imposing financial sanctions, the focus should now gradually shift to economic assistance, at a time when Pyongyang is changing its attitude toward nuclear tests and giving priority to economic development.
South Korea is an appropriate partner to offer economic assistance, and signs have shown that Seoul is ready to move. During the historic summit between Kim Jong-un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in, the latter reportedly handed Kim Jong-un a USB flash drive containing economic development plans, including electric power infrastructure, railways and highways that could be built if Pyongyang works toward denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. Although infrastructure in North Korea has steadily improved since the 1950s, the need for the refurbishment of those facilities and the building of an infrastructure network connecting the isolated country with South Korea and other countries will create a yawning funding gap. The B&R initiative is probably a good chance for East Asia to push forward the integration of economic and social development by involving North Korea in its economic network.
North Korea has economic and geographic advantages to join the B&R, which will help the country realize its economic potential. It won’t be easy, and it won’t happen overnight. However, getting North Korea into the B&R initiative to promote economic integration may be easier than what people would have imagined.