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Dreaming of Tomorrow’s Reunited Korean Peninsula

Professor Yoon Mook Lim , Yonsei School of Civil and Environmental Engineering

In the midst of preparations for reunification, North Korea’s infrastructure is an essential factor. Costs on infrastructure after reunification is expected to cover 40% of the total reunification cost, and this means that a reduction of 10% on this sector may ease 4% of the total cost. Although the level of infrastructure between the two Koreas did not show great discrepancy during the 1950s, the current conditions of other regions in North Korea are extremely vulnerable.

Infrastructure refers to “everything used by the public” including airports, ports, railroads, transportation systems, electricity, and so on. According to Global Competitiveness Report of World Economic Forum from 2012-13’, a state’s levels of infrastructure and development share a positive correlation. In other words, a state’s quality of life can be judged by the amount of investments made in infrastructure.

In contrast to the current conditions of Pyeongyang, other regions of North Korea still continue be constrained at a development level comparable to that of South Korea during the 1980s. In addition, North Korea’s subway system is impeded by incompetent administration and relies mostly on Russia for electric locomotives. North Korea also still solely relies on imported cars, and other transportation conditions are at a highly vulnerable state in terms of technical skills.

North Korea’s road infrastructure is way behind South Korea’s as the former’s 26,000km road system is only a quarter of the latter’s. The pavement rate is also only 8~10% while Seoul marks 100%, and 90% at a national level. Furthermore, the 661km highway system of North Korea is only one-sixth of South Korea’s in length. Despite the fact that North Korea’s 5000km railroad system is relatively better off, future plans regarding various factors are evaluated as myopic.

The recent twenty-year contract of “North’s Railway Network Modernization Project” with Russia consists of an exchange of US$25 billion and mining rights of Bastnäsite in North Korean territory. Accordingly, North Korea does not take advantage of mining resources for direct benefits but rather for exports or trades. While South Korea is attempting to further catalyze communication and transfer of skills through projects such as a united highway system, efforts regarding this cooperation in South Korea is quite divided rather than united. For further progress, it is important that a unilateral political economic agreement is prioritized over individual institutional cooperation.

There is no doubt that infrastructure is a pivotal yet expensive factor of a state’s quality of life, and there is a myriad of shortcomings for North Korea to overcome especially compared to South Korea. In order to face this challenge more effectively, perhaps economic cooperation projects such as Gaesung Industrial Complex may be salubrious. Conceding that both government and civil organizations make efforts to construct a helpful network and that justifiable political economic policies will be adopted, we can expect a substantial reduction in infrastructure costs.

Translated by Kim, Somang

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