South Korea on Friday expressed regret over the North’s revocation of a decision to send a cheering squad to the upcoming Asian Games in Incheon, denying Pyongyang’s accusations that Seoul had begrudged its earlier pledge.
Son Kwang-ho, vice chairman of the North’s Olympic Committee, announced the cancellation during an interview on state television late Thursday, citing the South’s “anxiety, complaints and displeasure” over the plans.
The communist country will still dispatch 273 athletes, coaches, referees and related officials.
“We deeply regret that the North has unilaterally announced the cheerleaders’ nonparticipation,” said Lim Byeong-cheol, a spokesman at Seoul’s Unification Ministry.
“It’s not true that we had not wanted them to take part. We do hope that North Korean players and cheerleaders will join.”
The two Koreas have been waging a war of nerves since their talks fell apart in mid-July to discuss the North Korean team’s lodging, transportation and other arrangements during the Asian Games set for Sept. 19-Oct. 4.
At the meeting, Son unveiled plans to send the largest-ever delegation for a sports event, consisting of 350 athletes and 350 cheerleaders.
North Korean cheerleaders would lure international attention for their all young, all female composition, unique costumes and props and tightly choreographed yet animated routines. Their appearance in past competitions served as a useful marketing tool and helped foster the mood for reconciliation in cross-border ties.
But the talks collapsed as North Korean negotiators unilaterally walked away from the table, accusing their Southern counterparts of taking issue with the scale of their cheering brigade and the size of the national flag, and demanding that the participants cover their own costs.
Despite Pyongyang’s threats of an entire pullout, the two sides resumed consultations by letter this week. North Korean officials had also visited Incheon for group draws in recent weeks.
The latest about-face toppled budding hopes for an easing of cross-border tension after South Korea and the U.S. finished their annual Ulchi Freedom Guardian drills on Thursday.
Seoul, meanwhile, has been criticized even here for its stiff approach despite the humanitarian nature of the Asiad, and for making no efforts to improve the situation since it was first informed of the cancellation more than a week ago.
Yet the ministry has no plans to request a change to the decision, Lim said.
“In line with the government’s policy, we hope that North Korea will positively respond to our efforts to offer talks or improve relations through sports-related exchanges,” he added.
“On the accommodation issue, our position is that while following international customs, we will cooperate with the North in a way that contributes to inter-Korean relations.”
By Shin Hyon-hee (firstname.lastname@example.org)