NORTH KOREA’s participation in the 2018 Winter Olympics held in Pyeongchang, South Korea is looking more likely, as the two states entered high-level talks on Tuesday.
According to Japanese news agency Kyodo, a figure skating pair from the North were “likely to participate” said Chang Ung, the country’s sole representative to the International Olympic Committee (IOC), to reporters at Beijing airport on Saturday.
Chang was reportedly heading to Switzerland to meet with IOC officials and suggested that more North Korean athletes may yet compete in the Games. Figure skaters Ryom Tae Ok and Kim Ju Sik are the only North Koreans to have qualified for Pyeongchang.
Asked whether the North’s conciliatory approach to participation in Pyeongchang was attempting to come between South Korea and the United States, Chang said: “There may some forces who do not want to see [the Koreas] going well … But issues about our people should be solved by ourselves.”
Representatives from Pyongyang and Seoul are meeting in high-level talks on Tuesday – the first since December 2015 – and participation in the games is slated to be on the agenda.
Regardless of its narrow, primarily sporting agenda, the meeting is being closely watched by world leaders eager for any sign of a reduction in tensions on the Korean peninsula amid rising fears over North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons and defiance of United Nations Security Council resolutions.
Some countries have expressed concern over security at the games, which is being held just 80km from the North Korean border. France’s sports minister has said the “Olympics team will stay at home” if security cannot be guaranteed. Japan has also raised safety concerns.
“We came to this meeting today with the thought of giving our brethren, who have high hopes for this dialogue, invaluable results as the first present of the year,” said head of North Korea’s delegation to Tuesday’s talks Ri Son Gwon.
During an address on New Year’s Day, the country’s leader Kim Jong Un said he was ready to send a delegation to the Games. Kim wished success for the games and said there was a need for thawing “frozen inter-Korean relations”, as quoted by Kyodo.
South Korea’s Unification Minister Cho Myoung Gyon also expressed optimism.
“Our talks began after North and South Korea were severed for a long time, but I believe the first step is half the trip,” he said.
Cho has said his delegation is also preparing to discuss resuming reunions of family members separated by the Korean War, which ended in a ceasefire and technically left the two Koreas still at war.
Some South Korean officials are hoping the two Koreas may even march under a single flag at the Winter Games, which would be the first time in more than a decade that the two Koreas united under one flag at a sporting event opening.
The opening ceremony for Pyeongchang 2018 will be held on Feb 9.
Additional reporting from Reuters