With less than a month to the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics, attention is being drawn on who will attend the games as Seoul seeks to use the sporting event as an opportunity to ease tensions on the Korean Peninsula.
The Moon Jae-in administration has been trying to invite as many foreign leaders as possible, particularly those from regional powers, in the hope that they will show their support for what Moon described as the “Peace Olympics.”
But the likelihood of their attendance -- Donald Trump of the US, Xi Jinping of China, Shinzo Abe of Japan, Vladimir Putin of Russia and Kim-jong-un of North Korea -- appears slim due to reasons ranging from political schedules to their relations with the two Koreas.
|Hip-hop group Rhythm Power Thursday carries the torch for the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics in Incheon, Gyeonggi Province. Yonhap|
North Korea has yet to announce its list of attendees, but high-ranking officials are expected to attend the PyeongChang Olympics, including Choe Ryong-hae, vice chairman of the ruling Workers’ Party. Choe is considered the second-most powerful man in North Korea.
Some speculate that Kim Jong-un’s younger sister Kim Yo-jong could be included on the list, but doubts persist over whether Kim Jong-un would send his own sibling. Kim Yo-jong was promoted last year to alternate member of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Worker’s Party
The US, for its part, announced that Vice President Mike Pence and his wife Karen Pence will lead the US delegation to PyeongChang. They are expected to be joined by Ivanka Trump, but her attendance is not confirmed, US officials told the Wall Street Journal.
Whether Chinese President Xi will attend remains to be seen. During a phone call with Xi on Thursday, Moon requested Xi’s attendance at the games’ closing ceremony to which Xi said he would help smooth transition from the PyeongChang Olympics to the next Winter Olympics hosted by Beijing in 2022.
Moon invited Xi to the Olympics during their summit last year. Xi faces a tight schedule in Beijing during the Olympic period as he and other high-ranking officials are expected to be busy with preparations for their annual legislative meeting in March.
Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the government has not decided yet whether Prime Minister Shinzo Abe would attend the PyeongChang Olympics, saying it would depend on his parliamentary schedule. The Japanese Diet is scheduled to convene on Jan. 22.
Earlier on Thursday, Japanese newspaper Sankei Shimbun had reported that Abe was unlikely to attend the games, citing government officials. Tokyo is at odds with Seoul over how to resolve the issue of “comfort women,” which refer to Korean victims of Japan’s wartime sexual enslavement.
With the Russian presidential election coming up in March, Putin also appears to be facing difficulties in attending the games. Russian athletes have been banned from competing under the Russian flag at the PyeongChang Olympics after the IOC found evidence of “systematic manipulation” of the anti-doping system
As of Thursday, a total of 99 countries had delivered their intent to join the games, including North Korea, with more than 6,500 athletes expected to compete, PyeongChang Olympics spokesman Sung Baek-yu told The Korea Herald. The number of participating countries and athletes will be finalized on Jan. 29.