South Korea offers North Korea talks on Olympics participation
South Korean authorities today offered to hold talks on 9 January with their North Korean counterparts over the possibility of North Korea sending a team to compete at next month’s winter Olympic games in PyeongChang, which lies just 40 kilometres south of the border between the two countries.
South Korea’s offer came after a surprise item in the New Year speech of Kim Jong Un, the North Korean leader, in which Kim proposed immediate talks over North Korea taking part in the games, saying: “North Korea’s participation in the Winter Games will be a good opportunity to show unity of the people, and we wish the games will be a success.”
Cho Myoung Gyon, South Korea’s unification minister, told reporters in Seoul that the offer of high-level talks had been discussed with the US government. In his speech, Kim had maintained a bellicose position towards USA, saying: “The entire United States is within range of our nuclear weapons, a nuclear button is always on my desk. This is reality, not a threat. This year, we should focus on mass-producing nuclear warheads and ballistic missiles for operational deployment. These weapons will be used only if our society is threatened.”
Last September, North Korea conducted its sixth and most powerful nuclear test, provoking international condemnation. The offer to send a team to compete at the PyeongChang games is being interpreted by some critical western observers as a ploy to blunt international pressure and drive a wedge between South Korea and USA, while leaving North Korea’s nuclear arsenal intact.
However, an International Olympic Committee spokesman welcomed North Korea’s offer to participate in the games, saying that it would work closely with the South Korean government and North Korea’s national Olympic committee on the matter.
In his own New Year message, IOC president Thomas Bach said that his organisation has been addressing political tensions on the Korean peninsula since 2015, adding: "This happened through close contact with the leaders of governments and NOCs concerned. In all these discussions, the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 were never put in doubt. On the contrary, we feel support for our position that the Olympic Games must always be beyond all political division.
"The Olympic Games are about dialogue. They are a symbol of hope and peace. In our troubled times, they are the only event that bring the whole world together in peaceful competition. To ensure this for the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018, we keep monitoring the situation very closely."
Meanwhile, a new passenger terminal at Incheon’s international airport that will be used by visitors to the games is to be unveiled to the public next week, with operations set to begin on 18 January.
The PyeongChang winter Olympics are scheduled for 9 to 25 February.