North Korea has said it will send a cheerleading squad to the Incheon Asian Games in September, the latest in a series of peace overtures toward South Korea. It follows Pyongyang’s earlier decision in May to send about 150 athletes to the event.
The North Korean cheerleading group, which is expected to number about 100 people, will be the fourth of its kind and the first since a similar squad accompanied athletes participating in the 2005 Asian Athletics Championships in Incheon.
Although it certainly is a typical propaganda tactic of one of the most isolated regimes in the world, it is desirable for the two Koreas to promote sports and cultural exchanges. Hopefully, it will help enhance their mutual understanding and contribute to reducing the ever-present military tension.
The North’s overture regarding the Asian Games follows previous peace proposals. On June 30, three days before Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Seoul, the North proposed that the two Koreas stop military hostilities.
The North also demanded that South Korea halt its regular military exercise with the United States, and seeing “lack of sincerity” in the proposal, the Seoul government rejected it.
On Friday, the last day of Xi’s visit to Seoul, the North renewed its proposal to suspend all military hostilities. Then came the announcement on Monday of its decision to send the cheering squad.
The North issued the announcement in a higher-than-usual form of statement, which included all the sweet words: better ties, national reconciliation, unity and self-resolution of Korean issues.
The problem is that the statement was not only concerned with the Asian Games and peace. Rather, it dealt more with political and security issues. This raises doubts about the North’s true motivations for the recent series of peace gestures.
In the Monday statement, the North said its nuclear arms are neither a barrier to unification nor a stumbling block in improved relations with the South. It went on to say that the nuclear weapons are “collateral” to deter foreign forces from invading the country and a means for achieving reunification of the peninsula without relying on foreign countries.
It demanded that Seoul stop working with foreign countries to halt its nuclear weapons program. Pyongyang must have felt the need to express its discontent over Xi’s comment in Seoul that Beijing opposes a nuclearized Korean Peninsula.
The North also demanded that the South lift the May 24, 2010, sanctions it imposed on Pyongyang after the North sank a South Korean Navy corvette in a torpedo attack. In other words, Pyongyang is telling Seoul and the world that it wants peace, and therefore it should be rewarded.
The Pyongyang regime, seeking economic assistance, which it also expects from improved relations with Japan, is pressing the Seoul government to make one-sided concessions in the name of reconciliation, without saying what it will do specifically.
What deepens suspicions about the North’s real intentions is that its military has not let up its armed provocations. In the week preceding Xi’s visit to Seoul, the North fired rockets and missiles on three occasions. On Saturday, the North’s official media said that Kim Jong-un personally oversaw a landing drill targeting South Korean islands in the West Sea.
The first thing the North should do to pursue reconciliation and peace on the peninsula is to halt these military provocations and come to the negotiation table with the South, not merely sending a group of young beauties to cheer on its athletes and charm South Koreans. The visit of the cheerleading squad should not fan any illusions about future ties with the North unless it takes proactive action.