Kim wants North Korea to compete at Olympics but he also wants to remain ‘diplomatically engaged’, analysts say
Athletes from North and South Korea marched under a unified peninsula flag at the opening ceremony in Pyeongchang and the two Koreas have experienced a significant thaw in tensions since
Kim Jong-un’s desire to participate in the next Olympic Games signals his “willingness to remain diplomatically engaged” as meetings loom with the South and US that may resolve or extend the stand-off over North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme, analysts said.
The International Olympic Committee announced on Saturday that North Korea will take part in the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo and the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing.
Speaking to reporters in Beijing after a three-day visit to Pyongyang, IOC President Thomas Bach said Kim was keen on joining the next two Games.
“This commitment was fully supported by the supreme leader of the DPRK in a very open and fruitful discussion I had with him yesterday,” Bach said, using the country’s formal name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
The IOC announcement comes after Kim made a surprise trip this week to Beijing to meet Chinese President Xi and ahead of a historic summit between the North’s leader and South Korean President Moon Jae-in at a border village on April 27.
The inter-Korean meeting, which will precede a planned summit between Kim and US President Donald Trump in May, could prove to be significant in the global diplomatic push to resolve the stand-off over the North’s nuclear weapons and missiles programme.
Shi Yinhong, an international relations professor from Renmin University, said though Kim has acquired sophisticated nuclear technology, he has signalled he is willing to partially denuclearise if the US gives him what he wants.
“It has become more active diplomatically, and it will remain so unless interaction with the US turns sour completely,” he said.
“Uncertainties are possible on the Pyongyang side and the US side, but all counties now have no choice but to embrace Kim.”
Cheng Xiaohe, another international relations academic from Renmin University, said it’s too early to say how the interactions between North Korea and other nations will develop.
“North Korea’s remarks on the Olympics, which is four years away, is a positive signal of its willingness to remain diplomatically engaged, but of course it’s all subject to change,” he said.
The IOC chief also said it will propose a joint North-South Korean march or other joint activities for the Tokyo Games, and later consider something similar for Beijing. Athletes from both Koreas marched under a unified peninsula flag at the opening ceremony in Pyeongchang.
“I don’t think there are any barriers if the two sides want joint marches,” Xiaohe said about the possibility of another joint Korean Olympic march. “They only need to figure out what flags to use.”
The North’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said Bach told Kim the trip was to “express the most heartfelt thanks” to North Korea’s leader for helping make February’s the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics a Games that were “symbolic of peace”.
Tensions have eased significantly between the Koreas since the Pyeongchang Games. And in the latest effort, South Korea on Saturday sent a group of 120 performers, including well-known K-pop singers and a taekwondo demonstration team, to Pyongyang.
Reporting by Jun Mai, Associated Press and Reuters