President Moon Jae-in is not ruling out the possibility of North Korea participating in the upcoming Tokyo Olympics, which he said could pave the way for the two Koreas to co-host the 2032 Olympics, according to a senior Cheong Wa Dae official on Wednesday.
“It remains to be seen whether North Korea will participate in the Tokyo Olympics. North Korea tends to make a big decision at the last minute,” the president reportedly said during a luncheon with the new mayors of Seoul and Busan earlier in the day.
“If North Korea will end up joining this year’s event, there is a possibility for the co-hosting of the 2032 Olympics.”
Moon was responding to Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon, who asked if the city should continue its efforts toward co-hosting the 2032 Olympics despite soured inter-Korean relations.
At their summit in Pyongyang in late 2018, Moon and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un agreed to pursue the joint Olympics bid. But talks have been stalled in the aftermath of the breakdown of the second summit between Kim and former US President Donald Trump in early 2019.
On April 1, the Seoul city government sent a proposal to the International Olympics Committee to co-host the 2032 Olympics with Pyongyang in a bid to keep its hopes alive, despite Brisbane, Australia, being the preferred bidder.
But a few days later, North Korea hinted at its withdrawal from the Tokyo Olympics through the website of its sports committee, citing COVID-19 concerns as the key factor.
The decision dealt a blow to Moon’s hopes of using the sports event in the neighboring country as an occasion to reengage with North Korea. But IOC President Thomas Bach said the committee had not yet received an official statement from Pyongyang.
On Wednesday, Moon reportedly told Oh that Seoul could place a solo bid until North Korea’s participation is confirmed, saying, “It is too early to give up for now.”
The lunch meeting was arranged at the request of the president, possibly in a move to reach out to the opposition conservative bloc following the crushing defeat of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea in the April 7 mayoral by-elections. Both the Seoul and Busan mayors are affiliated with the main opposition People Power Party.
Along with the Olympics, the meeting touched on a range of topics, including COVID-19 vaccines, possible presidential pardons for the country’s two imprisoned former presidents -- Moon’s direct predecessors -- and easing regulations for the housing market.
Cheong Wa Dae said friendly conversation was exchanged throughout the meeting, during which Moon stressed bipartisan cooperation in dealing with pending issues related to people’s livelihoods.
By Lee Ji-yoon (email@example.com