A few years back I was invited to participate in some activities sponsored by Gangwon province in northeastern South Korea, the traditional boundaries of which were split by the division of the peninsula. Officials were hoping that a reconnection of the east coast rail line would give the province an economic shot in the arm.
On the west side of the peninsula, officials have also been eyeing inter-Korean integration and the economic benefits that it could bring. According to a newspaper story passed along by Tom Murcott of Gale International, the developer of the Songdo “smart city,” back in 2008 local officials pushed for a traffic network expansion plan that would connect Incheon International Airport to Gangwha and Gaeseong Industrial Park as part of the Gangwha development plan. That integration would seem to make sense, especially if the October 2007 North-South summit vision of redeveloping Haeju ever came to pass.
With President Park’s renewed emphasis on unification, Incheon officials are dusting off the old plans. According to the report in the Incheon-based Kiho Ilbo, Incheon City has announced it will push ahead with the construction of an expressway from Yeongjong to Haeju of North Korea, the so-called “West Sea Unification Expressway.” Incheon City estimates KRW2.7 trillion of project costs will have to be spent on the 112km-long expressway.
Presumably the city doesn’t have that kind of cash laying around, and one would think that the national government might have something to say about opening up direct transportation links with the North, so don’t hold your breath. Nevertheless, it’s a reminder that local officials have their own eyes fixed on North-South possibilities, and if North-South relations calm, Incheon and Songdo would be ideally placed to become the hub of North-South exchange.