Russia last month completed the first land link that North Korea’s Stalinist regime has allowed to the outside world since 2003. Running between Khasan in Russia’s southeastern corner and North Korea’s rebuilt port of Rajin, the 54-kilometer rail link is part of a project President Putin is pushing that would reunite the railway systems of the two Koreas and tie them to the Trans-Siberian Railway.
That would give Putin partial control over links to European train networks 8,000 kilometers (5,000 miles) away. The route is as much as three times faster than shipping via Egypt’s Suez Canal, which handles 17,000 ships a year, accounts for about 8 percent of maritime trade — and is increasingly beset by pirates and political instability in Egypt and Syria.
“Shipping companies face higher costs to secure their cargo,” said Thomas Straubhaar, director of the Hamburg Institute of International Economics, in an e-mailed response to questions. “The rail route will get attractive if Russia increases efforts to ensure a secure and reliable transport on the long stretch between Asia and Europe. Customers don’t want their Porsche to be stolen along the way.”
Faster by Rail
Shipments to and from western Europe and Rajin will be delivered in just 14 days, compared with 45 days by ship, OAO Russian Railways Chief Executive Officer Vladimir Yakunin told reporters in North Korea Sept. 22.
Getting the two Koreas to work together on the railway and a long-stalled plan to build a pipeline to supply both Koreas with Russian natural gas is fraught with financial and political hurdles, said Fyodor Lukyanov, head of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy research group in Moscow. They stem from North Korea’s nuclear weapons program and lingering animosity from the 1950-1953 Korean War.
“Russia’s position is to get North Korea involved in profitable projects to make them realize that cooperation is better than isolation,” Lukyanov said by phone from the Russian capital.
Full article: Putin Builds North Korea Rail to Circumvent Suez Canal (Bloomberg)