By Ryu Jin
South Korea is expected to propose a large-scale investment plan in social overhead capital (SOC) in North Korea in the inter-Korean summit late this month to help the impoverished state revive its economy, according to officials on Thursday.
Officials in Seoul said that the package proposal will likely include the provision of electricity, renovation of the Pyongyang-Gaeseong highway, improvement of facilities in Nampo port and establishment of a fertilizer factory.
President Roh Moo-hyun and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il are set to meet in Pyongyang Aug. 28-30, seven years after Roh’s predecessor, Kim Dae-jung, met with the reclusive North Korean leader.
While the Roh administration finds itself in a difficult position to give direct assistance to the North, such as provisions of rice and fertilizer -- not to mention cash -- it appears to have opted for ``indirect’’ SOC investment, according to the sources.
Former President Kim Dae-jung won the Nobel Peace Prize for the first-ever summit in June 2000, but his achievement was partly tainted by later revelation that Seoul had secretly transferred $500 million to Pyongyang to foster the historic summit.
Roh, who has put more weight on transparency in North Korea affairs, often stressed the need to help North Korea repair its devastated economy with its own hand and get out of its economic slump.
In February, the Unification Ministry drew up a roadmap for a large-scale economic cooperation, focusing on ``what the North really wants.’’ Seoul will likely make some offers to Pyongyang in the upcoming summit, according to government sources.
Dubbed ``Roadmap to Hope,’’ the ministry plan includes as many as 16 items such as the provision of 2 million-kilowatt electricity, worth some $900 million every year, and renovation of the 170-kilometer Pyongyang-Gaeseong highway ($307.7 billion).
Other items include the improvement of facilities in Nampo port, the construction of a 330,000-ton fertilizer plant and installation of tree nurseries in Pyongyang, Gaeseong and Hamheung.
``We are sorting out items that could be offered,’’ a high-profile government official said on condition of anonymity. ``I think our proposal for the SOC investment could be discussed in the working-level preparatory talks in Gaeseong next week.’’
Experts estimated that the aid package could reach 9 trillion won to 13 trillion won ($9.7 billion to $14 billion) in the coming several years, if major items such as the highway renovation are included on top of the ongoing supply of heavy fuel oil.
Seoul is expected to demand the establishment of liaison offices across the border and the regularization of military talks headed by the defense ministers from the two sides in return for the economic incentives, according to the sources.
But the large-scale economic assistance is expected to trigger fiery debate in the South, as conservatives, represented by the opposition Grand National Party (GNP), have often lashed out at the government’s ``single-handed’’ assistance amid the nuclear standoff.
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance and Economy Kwon O-kyu, who is to accompany Roh to Pyongyang, stressed on Thursday that the aid package would be offered ``transparently’’ in close coordination with the international community.
``South-North Cooperation Fund, operated under the endorsement of the National Assembly, could be used first,’’ he told reporters. ``I think we should also try to create a favorable environment for the inter-Korean economic projects in close cooperation with the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank.’’