North Korea Goes Ahead With Seoul Visit After Olympics DealBy and
Winter Games next month to include 22 North Korean athletes
IOC chief Bach hails deal as sign of ‘respect and friendship’
An advance team for North Korea arrived in Seoul on Sunday as Pyongyang reversed a decision to cancel the visit, a day after signing an agreement with the South to march under a unified flag at next month’s Winter Olympics.
North and South Korea on Saturday solidified plans to march together and agreed to compete with a joint women’s ice hockey team in a rare show of unity amid heightened tensions about Kim Jong Un’s nuclear program.
With the games to be held in South Korea, the agreement offers a moment of reconciliation amid mounting tensions on the Korean peninsula involving missile tests and military exercises. North and South Korea will enter the opening ceremony in Pyeongchang under a single flag. The two nations haven’t competed as a team in 27 years.
“I’m sure it will be a very emotional moment, not just for all Koreans, but also for the entire world,” said Thomas Bach, the president of the International Olympic Committee, who hailed the agreement as being in the “true Olympic spirit of respect and friendship.”
The two countries will field a unified women’s hockey team, the first time the two sides will compete as one team. North Korea will send 22 athletes, along with 24 coaches and officials, Olympic officials said.
An advance team for North Korea’s art troupe, which will be performing in the South during the Olympics, arrived in Seoul on Sunday morning, reversing a decision on Friday night to cancel the visit. The seven-member team led by Hyon Song Wol, a North Korean pop star and party member, will inspect performance venues in Seoul and Gangneung, and coordinate the art troupe’s concert schedule during the two-day visit.
North Korea also offered to send another delegation to discuss the participation of its athletes, cheering squad and reporters from Jan. 25 to 27, South Korea’s unification ministry said on Sunday. Seoul will send a 12-member team on Jan. 23 to inspect venues in North Korea where the two Koreas plan a joint cultural event and ski training ahead of the Olympics, Yonhap reported.
Bach said Olympic organizers have been working since 2014 to reach an agreement for joint participation at the South Korea games. The IOC meeting addressed the number of athletes and officials from North Korea who would attend, as well as broader decisions on the format of their participation and matters related to protocol such as the flag, anthem, ceremonies and uniforms.
“This was not an easy journey,” Bach told reporters following the meeting at the Olympics headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland.
Bach said the agreement seemed “impossible only a few weeks ago,” and praised the two governments for coming together. He said he hoped the Olympics would “open the world for a brighter future on the Korean peninsula.”
The two Koreas announced on Jan. 17 plans to march jointly under one flag when the games start Feb. 9 in the South Korean ski resort of Pyeongchang. In addition to the hockey team, the two countries will conduct some activities in North Korea, including a joint cultural event at Mount Geumgang and training for skiers from both countries at the Masikryong ski resort on the east coast.
It will be the first time the two Koreas have marched together during the opening ceremony of an international sporting event since 2007, and the ninth time overall, according to South Korea. The two Koreas haven’t competed under a single banner since 1991.
Easing tensions on the divided Korean Peninsula can relieve the so-called “Korea discount,” a term often used to describe the phenomenon of Korea stocks and sovereign credit being undervalued due to the unique situation Korea faces, said presidential office spokesman Yoon Young-chan in a statement. “North Korea’s Olympic participation is an investment for the future,” he said.
While the detente was praised by officials at the United Nations and breaks months of brinkmanship over Kim’s nuclear program, tensions remain. On Wednesday, just as the two countries were announcing the Olympics agreement, a North Korean state-run newspaper called on South Korea to stop its military drills with the U.S. On Friday, it criticized the South for hampering improving relations ahead of the winter games.
— With assistance by Adam Satariano