Will this new "Silk Road" trading route actually integrate the two Koreas more and push them further towards reunification? And isn't this already a stretch of the ancient silk road comparison, considering that the original one actually stretched from the Middle East to just present-day Xinjiang?
Putin in S. Korea to push new 'Silk Road' via N. Korea
Seoul (AFP) - Russian President Vladimir Putin was in South Korea Wednesday to push a pet project for a new major trading route linking Asia and Europe by rail that requires prying open North Korea.
Putin hopes his brief visit will include the signing of a memorandum of understanding on the ambitious project, which envisages an "Iron Silk Road" uniting the rail networks of South and North Korea and connecting them to Europe via the Trans-Siberian Railway.
Russia took a first step in September, when it completed a 54-kilometre (33-mile) track from the its southeast border town of Khasan to the North Korean port of Rajin.
Located in the far northeast, where the borders of North Korea, Russia and China converge, Rajin offers a warm-water port for the North's two giant neighbours.
Putin's desire is to see the rail link extended through North Korea, across the world's last Cold War frontier, and all the way down to the southern South Korean port of Busan.
Media reports say Russia is looking for South Korea to take a 34 percent share in the project, with Moscow holding 36 percent and Pyongyang 30 percent.
"The idea itself makes perfect sense from a trade and economic viewpoint," [North Korean expert Andrei] Lankov told AFP.
"But this is clearly going to cost billions of dollars and what companies are going to risk that much investment with North Korea in the current climate?" Lankov asked.
"I'm sure North Korea will be keen, because once it got started, it would provide Pyongyang with a new project to manipulate and use to pressure others," he added.
Lankov said the same financial and political risks applied to plans to build a pipeline to supply both Koreas with Russian natural gas.
Observers highlight the precedent of the Kaesong industrial zone jointly run by North and South Korea, which Pyongyang unilaterally shut down in April as military tensions surged.
The zone reopened in September, but South Korean factory owners said they lost a small fortune during the five-month closure.