A long time ago, there was a route called the ‘Silk Road’ for traversing the landlocked countries in Asia. For about 800 years, it extended over 8,000 km on land and sea. Trade on the Silk Road was a significant factor in the development of the great civilizations of China, central Asia and the west.
Now, once again, through a restoration project, dreams of the Silk Road are coming to light. If in 2010, you start in Busan, you can get to Europe by car, via China or Russia. Already, you can see the milestones written ‘Asian Highway AH1’ on the Seoul‐Busan (Kyongbu) Expressway.
Asian Highway: That Is It
‘The Asian Highway’ is a network of 141,000 kilometers of standardized roadways crisscrossing 32 Asian countries with linkages to Europe. Korea also signed Asian Highway project. The Asian Highway project was initiated in 1959 with the aim of promoting the regional cooperation or trade, but also of constructing an integrated, international transport system.
It is one of the three pillars of Asian Land Transport Infrastructure Development project comprising Asian Highway, Trans‐Asian Railway and facilitation of land transport projects endorsed the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asian and Pacific (UNESCAP).
The Intergovernmental Agreement on the Asian Highway Network was adopted on 18 November 2003 by an intergovernmental meeting held in Bangkok, was open for signature in April 2004 in Shanghai and entered into force on 4 July 2005. When this agreement took effect, participating countries should improve each connected road system by 2010.
The Asian Highway has criteria for the identification of routes linking capital to capital, industrial and agricultural zones, container terminals and depots, or tourism attractions. It encourages maximizing the use of existing infrastructure. Since most Asian Highway participating countries have their own design standards, the Asian Highway classification and design standards provide the minimum standards and guidelines for the construction, improvement and maintenance of Asian Highway routes.
In Korea, the Seoul‐Busan (Kyongbu) Expressway will be used for the AH1. AH1, the main corridor starts in Tokyo and links, via ferry, with the Koreas and across the continent to Istanbul. The other line will pass Korea, which is AH6 connecting Gangneung and Busan. South Korea does not need to construct new roads, since the existing facilities met standard requirements. Korea only has to put an ‘Asian Highway’ mark on road signs.
“We see the importance of construction transport linkage within the region in order to distribute developed though all countries, not only to the developed ones," said ESCAP economist Raj Kumar.
Each Asian country has different anticipations for the Asian Highway. First, North and South Korea anticipate doing a role of bridge connecting China, Russia, and Mongolia if the Asian Highway does work. It is a chance for Japan to get over limitation of island as connecting continent by path. In China’s position, construction of Asian highway can recover historical, cultural, and geopolitical meaning that has been lost.
The Asian Highway assists to promote domestic and international trade in planning the most cost‐effective and efficient routes. In addition, the tourist industry will grow through the Asian Highway. In the end, it will distribute peace and prosperity in the East‐Asian community.
Under‐Secretary‐General of the United Nations and Executive Secretary of UNESCAP, Kim Hak‐Su said, “Politically, the Asian Highway is likely to improve understanding and communication between peoples of countries spread over a huge landmass and separated by rugged mountains, deserts and maritime straits and disparate cultures and political traditions. The same way it has happened in Europe, because of their road and rail links. The landlocked countries that would be linked more closely to seaports include Bhutan, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Nepal and Uzbekistan.”
Early on, national routes were designated to be part of the international network but many gaps existed between them. It is a problem for each country to have different identity such as religion, political system, or history. In Asia, there are many counties. Some countries are rich, but others are poor.
As they are mixed, the burden from this financial gap slows the development of the Asian Highway. Moreover, we have to consider the standards for roads, road signs, pavement condition, status of road safety and creating awareness, and road traffic flows, differed considerably among the countries.
The other matter is international borders. In Europe, it is easy to cross the border, but in Asia it is difficult and it needs to diplomatic negotiation. The isolation of North Korea and the unique relationship with their neighbors exemplifies this problem to the extreme.
Practicality is limited. Compared to other forms of transportation, driving the long distance from one end to the other is not competitive in this case.
Nevertheless, it is estimated that the Asian Highway will play an important role as to be a principal road. It will become the main mode of transportation between neighboring lands. Korea and China, China and Mongolia, or Korea and Japan are all neighbors whose communication and trade will be improved. In fact, it has a great of symbolical meaning.
Kim of the Korea Transport Institute said, “The international E‐road network is a system of roads in Europe, numbered E1 and up. They cross national borders and are the responsibility of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE).
As a result, E‐road contributed to the implementation and development of the Internal Market, as well as re‐enforcing economic and social cohesion, the construction of the trans‐European transport network is a major element in economic competitiveness and a balanced and sustainable development of the European Union. The example of Europe is full of suggestions.
We can recognize that development requires the interconnection and interoperability of national networks through E‐road in Europe. Above all, it is important to establish guidelines covering the objectives, priorities, the definition of projects of common interest, and the main themes of the envisaged measures.”
Han of Ministry of Construction and Transportation said, “It is certain that the Asian Highway will bring an increase of exchange of material and human resources. However, it is not a proper way that is engrossed in short‐term interests. Right now it is difficult to anticipate profits, as soon as opened the route it is boom up mutual cooperation and lively discussion to let down the bars. We should take a long‐term view and through it we try to make a foundation for being friends.”