“The ceremony at the North Korean border town of Kaesong came weeks after the Koreas conducted a joint survey on the northern railway sections they hope to someday link with the South. It’s one of several peace gestures agreed between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and liberal South Korean President Moon Jae-in as they push ahead with engagement amid a stalemate in larger nuclear negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang,” the Associated Press detailed the politics behind a rail project designed to modernize the North Korean rail system and connect to those in South Korea.
“A South Korean train carrying about 100 people — including government officials, lawmakers and aging relatives separated by the 1950-53 Korean War — rolled into the North Korean border town of Kaesong, where they were greeted by North Koreans including Ri Son Gwon, who heads an agency dealing with inter-Korean affairs,” the report continued.
Beyond The Ceremony
Chinese and Russian officials were invited to witness the ceremony, yet the project cannot move much further until international sanctions against North Korea are loosened or lifted altogether. “However, insofar as Moon’s goal was to try to bridge the gap between North Korea and the US and keep relations between the two smooth, some believe that the South Korean president was successful,” read QZ‘s analysis of a summit between the two nations in September of this year.
“The fact that the worst dictator in the world — who violates human rights of its residents — is portrayed as someone who can be part of making world peace shows that South Korean society has lost the ability to filter through and control the situation,” stated Kang Dong-wan, a professor at Dong-A University in relation to a recent controversy in South Korea surrounding North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un being depicted in a ‘cute’ fashion.
The scandal happened concurrently with South Korean officials sending a verification team to verify the north honored parts of the September arrangement. “…The North side did not stop them nor express discomfort and actively cooperated,” said South Korean President Moon Jae-in spokesperson Kim Eui-kyeom, during a mid-December press conference on the issue.
The Next Step
North and South Korea are making progress in improving their diplomatic relationship, without much aid or support from the current United States executive administration. The most expert analysis states that a completely denuclearized North Korea is unlikely in the immediate future, but their willingness to negotiate is a small but welcomed step.
The North Korean state remains one of the most brutal human rights abusers in the world. It is improbable the larger international community will ever welcome North Korea if leadership continues to spurn democracy. “The North Korean government restricts all basic civil and political liberties for its citizens, including freedom of expression, religion and conscience, assembly and association. It prohibits any organized political opposition, independent media and civil society, and free trade unions. Lack of an independent judiciary, arbitrary arrest and punishment of crimes, torture in custody, forced labor, and executions maintain fear and control,” states a Human Rights Watch report.
“Women in North Korea face a range of sexual or gender-based abuses, as well as violations of other rights in common with the rest of the population. These include punishment for acts of their husband or other relatives, torture, rape and other sexual abuses in detention facilities, sexual exploitation, or forced marriages of North Korean women in China, and other forms of sexual and gender-based violence and discrimination,” their analysis continues.