North Korea is feared to be trying to turn the PyeongChang Winter Olympics in South Korea into a stage for the regime’s propaganda.
It made an unacceptable counteroffer to a South Korean offer of humanitarian exchanges, became infuriated at the South mentioning dialogue on its nuclear arms program, spoke ill of South Korea and even tried to intimidate the South by saying that talks could be broken off any time.
However, the South Korean government did not take issue with the North, leading to criticism it is being submissive. It needs to demand what is needed to prevent the games from becoming the North’s political show.
South and North Korea agreed Monday that North Korea would send a 140-member art troupe to the South to perform during the PyeongChang Olympics. It will be the largest North Korean troupe to come to South Korea after a previous visit in August 2002.
There is no reason to oppose its performances in South Korea, but the South must not approach it unconditionally.
Cultural performances commemorating the Olympics should brighten the festive mood and express a wish for peace. But how much the North’s performances will truly measure up to expectations is questionable. Considering that all performing arts in North Korea are instruments for the regime’s propaganda, it is very likely to use the Olympics as an opportunity for a peace offensive.
After high-level talks, Pyongyang proposed working-level talks to deal with its offer to dispatch an art troupe to the South -- not its participation in the Olympics. The first working-level meeting on sports matters took place Wednesday. The order of the meetings indicates that Pyongyang is more interested in showing the South its performing arts than sending its athletic delegates.
Even though cultural performances will be of more help to breaking the ice, the troupe is out of proportion to the handful of North Korean athletes expected to join the games. The North on Wednesday also offered to send a 230-member cheering squad to the Olympics.
Performing arts have a positive aspect in fostering a friendly atmosphere for further talks and exchanges, but it is doubtful whether they will have the effects the South hopes for.
At the high-level talks, the North reportedly demanded the South send back female employees who escaped from a North Korean restaurant in China in 2016 as a precondition for a South Korean overture to hold a humanitarian event to reunite families separated by the division of the Korean Peninsula. However, this precondition is unacceptable for the South.
There is little prospect of joint performances in the South or an exchange performance in the North by a South Korean troupe. The South reportedly failed to bring this up actively at the first meeting.
North Korean media outlets said the Olympics would be “spoiled” unless the South Korean government manages public opinion properly.
Regarding President Moon Jae-in’s policy, unveiled at his New Year’s press conference, to seek to improve inter-Korean relations and resolve the North Korean nuclear problem separately, the North’s media outlets said, “South Korean authorities must never delude themselves. Trains and buses our Winter Olympic delegates will take are still in Pyongyang.”
Such statements amount to intimidation that Pyongyang can overturn its decision any time. Nevertheless, no one in the South Korean government seems to have protested the intimidation.
Specific schedules and programs need to be worked out in follow-up consultations. If the North’s delegation tries to use the Olympics as a chance to spread its political propaganda, efforts to promote peace on the Korean Peninsula through the sporting event will lose luster.
Also, the South’s ambitious plan to develop inter-Korean contact into denuclearization talks between Washington and Pyongyang will likely come to nothing.
In follow-up meetings, the government must say what should be said to prevent these things from happening. Pyongyang must keep in mind that any attempt to spread the regime’s propaganda will face headwinds.