In September of 2017, Russian President Vladimir Putin hosted the annual Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok. As Vladivostok is the closest major Russian city to the Korean border, it was an appropriate forum for Putin to propose a planned tripartite economic cooperation scheme between Russia and the two Korean states. South Korean President Moon Jae-in attended the meeting and expressed his enthusiasm for the project while a delegation from the DPRK (North Korea) expressed an equal amount of enthusiasm but stated that their participation in the project would be delayed until various security risks could be adequately addressed.
It would appear as though the DPRK’s period of hesitation in respect of the project has come to an end as it has been announced that Russia and the DPRK will build a highway linking the DPRK to Russia. Currently, the roads between the Russian and DPRK borders are small and in poor repair. Because of this most trade between Russia and the DPRK must pass through China whose road links to the DPRK are far more advanced.
According to Russian government minister Alexander Krutikov,
“In June, both Russian and North Korean technical experts are set to hold consultations on building a motorway bridge between the two countries. North Korea is to provide the project with workforce as well as with construction materials, while Russia will give the necessary equipment and building supplies”.
This road is the key element in bringing Putin’s tripartite economic proposal to life and will help to create a new transport corridor linking the south coast of the Korean peninsula with Russia for the first time in contemporary history. In addition to a Russia-Korea transport corridor, the project will also likely include a new Russia to Korea pipeline. While South Korea continues to purchase more energy from Russia, the division of the Korean peninsula had prohibited an easy natural gas pipeline route from Russia into South Korea. With the rapid rapprochement of the two Korean states it will soon be possible for Russia to have a clear pipeline and transport route into both Korean states, something that will be to the economic benefit of all three state partners. While Russia maintains historically strong diplomatic and economic relations with the DPRK, Russia’s trade with South Korea continues to rise while Presidents Putin and Moon maintain a warm relationship.
This new reality of a forthcoming highway linking South Korea to Russia via the DPRK will itself play an important role in integrating the Korean peninsula into China’s One Belt–One Road trading and global logistics initiative, in which Russia continues to be a key partner.
This is yet a further example of how the Korean peace process has helped to foster a revived spirit of pan-Asian cooperation on the win-win model of Chinese President Xi Jinping.