The Korea Herald


[Newsmaker] Vice FM hints at Seoul veering away from diplomatic boycott of Beijing Games

By Ahn Sung-mi

Published : Dec. 9, 2021 - 15:25

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First Vice Foreign Minister Choi Jong-kun (Yonhap) First Vice Foreign Minister Choi Jong-kun (Yonhap)

South Korea is seeking to play its “role as the previous host nation” of the Winter Olympics, First Vice Foreign Minister Choi Jong-kun said Thursday, alluding that Seoul is less likely join the US in a diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Beijing Games.

Choi made the remarks during an interview with local radio station TBS, stressing that the upcoming Beijing Olympics are a “relay of Northeast Asian Olympics from PyeongChang to Tokyo and Beijing and are very meaningful.”

His remarks suggest that Seoul is tilting toward opting out of the US-led diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Games slated for Feb. 4 to 20. But he clarified the “government has not yet made any decisions.”

On Thursday, the Foreign Ministry declined to comment directly on whether Seoul has made up its mind concerning the Olympics, but reiterated its stance that the government is not reviewing a diplomatic boycott at this time and no decision has been made on whether government representatives will attend the games.

The UK and Canada became the latest nations to join the diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Games on Wednesday, following a similar announcement made by the US and Australia earlier in the week, citing China’s human rights abuses.

This means their athletes will still compete, but the countries will not send their government delegations to the event.

Observers say Washington could further press its ally Seoul to join its lead. But officials here noted that while the US had notified South Korea in advance of its boycott decision, it said it is up to the country to decide on the matter.

The widening boycott could further test Seoul’s tough balancing act amid the intensifying rivalry between its security ally Washington and key trade partner Beijing. As the boycott risks further straining ties between Western countries and China, South Korea is facing increasing pressure to choose between the two superpowers.

The boycott is also dealing a blow to Seoul’s hope to use the Beijing event as an occasion to revive its long-stalled diplomacy with Pyongyang, replicating the similar success of the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics -- which set the stage for renewed relations between the US and North Korea, as well as between the two Koreas.

Seoul has been also eyeing the Beijing Games as a potential chance for progress in South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s proposal to declare a formal end to the 1950-53 Korean War, together with the leaders of North Korea, the US and China. But without Washington’s participation, coupled with Pyongyang being suspended from the Beijing Games as punishment for skipping the Tokyo Games this summer, a diplomatic breakthrough appears to be difficult.