Flags at the Gangneung Village - File Photo (Dave Thompson/International Olympic Committee)
North Korea officially notified China that the country would not attend the upcoming Beijing Winter Olympics in a letter, citing “hostile forces’ maneuver” and the COVID-19 pandemic as hindrances, the North’s state media reported Friday.
North Korea’s Olympic Committee and Ministry of Physical Culture and Sports sent the letter to the related Chinese authorities, including the General Administration of Sport, the Chinese Olympic Committee and the Beijing Organizing Committee for the 2022 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games.
Notably, both internal and external-oriented North Korea state media outlets reported the country’s absence at the Beijing Olympics.
“The letter says we have become unable to participate in the Olympics due to the hostile forces’ maneuvers and the worldwide pandemic situation,” state media, including the party organ Rodong Sinmun and Korean Central News Agency, reported in a Korean-language dispatch.
“But we would fully endorse and support the Chinese comrades in all their work to hold a magnificent and great Olympic festival.”
In the letter, Pyongyang said the “anti-China conspiracy and machinations by the US and its following forces are becoming more vicious.”
The country went on to say that the North Korean Olympic Committee and Ministry of Physical Culture and Sports “resolutely oppose and rebuff” the move, labeling it as a “nasty act of attempting to tarnish the international image of China.”
The letter was conspicuously delivered by North Korean Ambassador to China Ri Ryong-nam to the Chinese General Administration of Sport on Wednesday, when North Korea launched what it claimed as a “hypersonic missile.”
South Korea’s Unification Ministry on Friday said Seoul would comprehensively analyze and assess the situation without “prejudging” North Korea’s intent behind the notification and the timing of conveying the letter.
“(But) there has been no change in the government’s basic stance that we hope the Beijing Olympics will serve as an opportunity to contribute to peace in Northeast Asia and the world,” said deputy spokesperson Cha Duck-chul during a regular briefing. “We will continue to keep close tabs on the situation.”
In September, North Korea was officially banned by the International Olympic Committee from participating in the Winter Olympics in Beijing.
The IOC executive board suspended North Korea’s Olympic Committee until this year due to Pyongyang’s unilateral decision not to attend the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics held last July.
But the IOC did not block the individual participation of North Korean athletes qualified for the Beijing Olympics, elucidating that the IOC would “take an appropriate decision in due course for the athletes concerned.”
North Korea previously sent a diplomatic delegation led by then-President of the Presidium of the Supreme People‘s Assembly Kim Yong-nam to the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, although there were no athletes qualified for the Olympics.
But North Korea’s official announcement of its absence would indicate a slimmer chance of dispatching an Olympic delegation, especially as the country has put top priority on maintaining its border closure and lockdown measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 for almost two years.
South Korean Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong in late December said Seoul saw little chance of restoring inter-Korean relations with the upcoming Beijing Olympics as momentum, adding that Seoul would not give up its efforts to resuscitate the peace process nonetheless.
“But we will do our best to improve inter-Korean relations and expeditiously reactivate the peace process on the Korean Peninsula using all opportunities. We will not give up hope until the end.”
By Ji Da-gyum (firstname.lastname@example.org