As North Korea has proposed sending its art troupe to South Korea by ferry for performances to mark the PyeongChang Winter Olympics, questions are growing over the North’s intention behind the decision.
North Korea’s 140-member art troupe taking the ferry Mangyongbong-92 to South Korea and using it as accommodation here would be in violation of South Korea’s 2010 sanctions that ban North Korean ships from making a port call in the South.
Experts said that North Korea’s decision to use the ferry, which could trigger controversy over possible violations of sanctions, could be meant to push the boundaries of sanctions on the reclusive regime by having South Korea make exceptions for Pyongyang.
“I think North Korea intends to tear down multi-layered sanctions even just a little bit by asking South Korea to accept its request at short notice,” said Hong Hyun-ik, a senior research fellow at Sejong Institute.
North Korea’s plan to use the 9,700-ton cargo-passenger ferry could constitute a violation of Seoul’s May 24 unilateral sanctions established in 2010 to punish the North for its sinking of a South Korean warship in March that year.
The Mangyongbong-92 is not a ship blacklisted by the United Nations Security Council or the US, according to Seoul’s Foreign Ministry.
The Unification Ministry’s spokesperson Baik Tae-hyun said that the government is considering an exemption to make the PyeongChang Games a success.
Another factor that Pyongyang took into consideration in its decision to use the Mangyongbong-92 could be to stop North Korean delegates’ possible defection to South Korea.
“Another thing is that North Korea is seeking to prevent members of the art troupe from defecting while in the South,” he said. “If any North Korean defects, it could put the North Korean regime in trouble.”
Ko Myung-hyun, a researcher at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies, also echoed the view.
“I don’t think that North Korea is expecting to ease sanctions on the regime greatly by asking to use the ferry,” he said. “What appears to matter more to the North is to block North Korean delegates from defecting to the South when they are here.”
The troupe’s first performance will be held at Gangneung Arts Center on Thursday, followed by a concert at the National Theater of Korea in Seoul on Sunday. The North earlier said it would send the art troupe via a western cross-border land route.
By Ock Hyun-ju (firstname.lastname@example.org)