South Korean President Moon Jae-in wants to end the Korean War before his term ends in May. Beside dealing with one of the most reclusive regimes in the world, the negotiation with North Korean officials is made even more challenging since the joint liaison office, near the North’s border town of Kaesong, was blown up in June 2020.
However, Moon still hopes for a breakthrough and continues to urge the four involved countries, the U.S., China, North Korea, and South Korea, to engage in a dialogue to end the war. At the recent New Year’s speech in the first week of January, he said that South Korea will “pursue normalization of the inter-Korean relations and an irreversible path to peace until the end”. He added that such efforts should continue during the next administration.
There are potential benefits to inter-Korean cooperation for the shipping industry when the war is formally ended. According to experts at the international symposium “The U.S.-China Strategic Competition and East Asia: Opportunities and Challenges in the Korean Peninsula Peace Process Initiative” held in November 2019, South Korea can utilize North Korea’s geopolitical advantages to open up new Russian and European markets.
Lee Seong-woo, the General Policy Research Division Lead at Korea Maritime Institute (KMI), a speaker at the symposium, said: “We need to establish the shipping belt between South Korea and North Korea, which will allow South Korea to reach out to Russian, European markets”. He added that “the network should be a combination of marine and in-land transportations”.
The Korean peninsula might be able to step up as a regional trade hub too.
Hwang Jin-hoi and Jeon Woo-hyun, both researchers at KMI, wrote in their report “Establishment of Maritime Cooperation following Development of Inter-Korean Relations” (2018) that the Korean Peninsula can be the trading center in Asia. They opined that “the East Asian region is where massive economic growth is expected (for the next few years).”
“South Korea can become the hub of Asian shipping lines by developing shipping networks and ports in the Korean Peninsula, especially restoring the shipping routes between two Koreas, and upgrading North Korean ports … The two countries had cooperated in the shipping industry before, and the governments can expect similar benefits with even small investments.”
Hwang and Jeon added that the shipping industry has fewer physical restrictions than air and land transportations in the Korean Peninsula.
They stated “The volume of inter-Korean shipping will increase” and “The current capacity of North Korean ports will soon be challenged with the increased amount of goods. Therefore, efforts to improve and maintain North Korean ports will be necessary and “such efforts can bring additional profits to port operational businesses and construction companies in South Korea.”
The researchers added that North Korea’s shipping and tourism industry will also benefit too with more newly connected shipping lines and leisure cruises traveling North Korean routes.
Fishing industry benefits too
Experts also believed the fishing industry is one area for cooperation as North Korean supreme leader Kim Jung Un has emphasized strengthening the fishing industry since 2013. Some measures he suggested for developing the industry included adopting technologies to improve fish catch and to increase output of fisheries.
At the symposium, Dr. Bernhard Seliger from the South Korean office of Hanns-Seidel-Stiftung, a political research foundation, said that both Koreas can cooperate more closely in sustainable development in fish culture and cooperation in fishing operations.
“The number of people who seek to work in the fishing industry in North Korea is increasing as fishing became a good money-making business,” Um Sun-hee, Research Institute for Fisheries in East Sea at National Institute of Fisheries Science, said.
“In the case of the East Sea region, South Korea and North Korea can start their cooperation from researching marine resources. South Korea can provide ships and equipment for fishing (to North Korea),” she said.