October 2, 2002 Wednesday
Project of S. Korea-Japan undersea tunnel grabs new spotlight
SEOUL, Oct 2, 2002 - The possibility of building a tunnel under the sea
between South Korea and Japan has emerged again.
A five-member Japanese delegation paid a visit last month to South
Gyeongsang Gov. Kim Hyuk-kyu and briefed the southeastern provincial
government on the neighboring country's plans for the undersea tunnel.
Led by Daizo Nozawa, a Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) lawmaker in Japan's
House of Councilors, the delegation reportedly asked the province to play
an active role in linking the two countries by the tunnel. It explained
the economic benefits the province could receive if it were constructed.
Nozawa, known as a key Japanese figure in the civil engineering projects
for the past 10 years, also toured the province's Geoje region.
This had been marked by a Japanese expert group as the starting point
of the contemplated tunnel on the South Korean side, officials at the
regional government said.
There are three routes involving the tunnel's passage contemplated by the
Society for the Japan-Korea Tunnel Research, a private group set up in
1983 and financed by the Unification Church of the Rev. Moon Sun-myung.
Two out of the three routes run from Geoje to Karatsu in Saga Prefecture,
southwestern Japan, while the remaining route connects Busan, South
Korea's second biggest city, to the Japanese city of Karatsu.
All three options call for the tunnel's passage via the Japanese islands
of Iki and Tsushima located in the middle of the waters between the
The Japanese notion of such a submarine tunnel dates back to 1939 when a
Japanese railroad expert conceived a railway connection between Tokyo and
If the submarine tunnel is built, Japanese railroads could be linked to
European cities through an inter-Korean railroad, the Trans-Siberia Railway
(TSR) and the Trans-Chinese Railway (TCR).
Economic benefits generated by the tunnel's construction are obviously
behind the project. Japanese experts have trumpeted it normally takes
20 days for a seaborne transport from Japan to Europe but the tunnel,
if built, could cut the time to just two days.
Costs for logistics on the Japan-Europe route will shrink to one fourth
of the current shipping costs, they have said.
Other developments involving railroads on the Korean Peninsula also gave
further momentum to the tunnel project.
Last month South and North Korea began clearing land mines inside the
demilitarized zone (DMZ) to reconnect two sets of railways and roads,
severed since the 1950-1953 Korean War, through the heavily fortified DMZ.
The two Koreas have agreed the Gyeongui rail line set to link Seoul to
Sinuiju, a border city in the North, via Pyongyang will be completed by
the end of this year. It is also hoped a road running parallel to the
railway will be completed by next spring.
Work on the Donghae (East Sea) rail line and an adjacent road linking
eastern coastal cities is expected to take about a year.
Leaders of South Korea and Japan also have called for the implementation
of the project on many occasions.
South Korean President Kim Dae-jung said the two countries should
review the construction of the tunnel linking Hokkaido, northern Japan,
to Europe as "a dream of the future" in September 2000 when he held a
summit with then Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori. In the following
month, Mori proposed pushing ahead with the project at the Seoul summit
of the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM).
But both governments have stopped short of announcing it as a bilateral
Since the 1980s the Japanese research group has been solely engaged in
detailed research and exploration of prospective sites for the tunnel.
In 1988 the group had a Korean firm explore the sea off Geoje to examine
the geological features in the region and judged the South Korean side
is better for the project than the Japanese side.
For South Korea, the Ministry of Construction and Transportation
commissioned three research institutes to study the feasibility of the
project earlier this year.
The perceived tunnel across the Korean Straits, with a length of 200
kilometers, is the world's biggest if it is built.
It will dwarf the 50-kilometer tunnel across the English Channel of Dover
between Britain and France and the 53.9-kilometer Seikan tunnel connecting
Japan's Honshu and Hokkaido, of which 23.3 km are beneath the sea.
Japanese experts estimate completion of the tunnel will take 15 years
and costs US$77 billion.
Some Korean experts take a cautious stance against the project, expressing
worries about the interests of South Korea and Japan colliding as
Japan is expected to gain the upper hand in the logistics area of the
Northeast Asia. This is feared again to raise the specter of Japan's
expansion of its influence in the region, they say.
Meanwhile, in an interview last month with the Japanese newswire Kyodo
News last month, Alexander Losyukov, the Russian vice foreign minister
in charge of Asia-Pacific affairs, raised the prospect of building the
undersea tunnel to link up the railway system in South Korea and Japan,
adding such a project is "something for the distant future, but feasible."