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(PyeongChang G-30) One month before PyeongChang, hopes grow for Olympic peace

All News 06:05 January 09, 2018

By Chang Dong-woo

SEOUL, Jan. 9 (Yonhap) -- One month before the opening of the PyeongChang Winter Olympics, the rival Koreas are moving ahead with reconciliatory efforts, raising hopes that the games will deliver the Olympic spirit of peace and unity.

The two Koreas are set to hold their first formal talks in more than two years at the border village of Panmunjom on Tuesday to discuss the North's possible participation in the Feb. 9-25 Winter Olympics in the South.

In his New Year's speech, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un extended a rare olive branch to the South, saying that he is willing to dispatch a delegation to PyeongChang.

Last week, the two Koreas restored a long-severed border hotline and resumed official contacts after the leaders of South Korea and the U.S. agreed to delay annual military exercises until after the Olympics.

The high-level dialogue on Tuesday will focus on the North's participation in the Olympics. Topics to be discussed include the size of its delegation and the question of the two Koreas' joint entrance at the opening and closing ceremonies.

They are also expected to discuss ways to improve long-stalled ties. Seoul is likely to highlight the urgent need to ease military tensions and arrange reunions of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War.

International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach plans to hold discussions with Chang Ung, the North's representative to the IOC, this week at IOC headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland, on the North's possible participation in the Winter Olympics, according to AFP. Bach has gone on record as saying that IOC has invited North Korea to participate in PyeongChang 2018 and that it will offer support if necessary.

Despite escalating tensions over Pyongyang's nuclear and missile threats last year, the liberal Moon Jae-in government has continued to encourage the North's participation in expectation that it could restore inter-Korean ties and facilitate diplomacy to resolve the nuclear standoff.

This file photo shows a North Korean cheering squad at the 2002 Asian Games in South Korea's southeastern port city of Busan in 2002. (Yonhap)

"If the two Koreas reach an agreement on the North's participation and a follow-up meeting (on other areas), the mere fact that the two sides sat down and listened to each other would be a success in and of itself," said Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies.

The North boycotted the 1988 Seoul Summer Olympics but later participated in international sports events in South Korea -- the 2002 Busan Asian Games, the 2003 Daegu Summer Universiade and the 2014 Incheon Asian Games.

Kang Kyung-wha, South Korea's foreign minister, said Monday, "If North Korea participates in the PyeongChang Olympics, the games' profile as the 'peace Olympics' would be strengthened."

Kang added, "Through North Korea's participation in PyeongChang, the government is also considering the issues of improving inter-Korean ties and the international community's cooperation in denuclearizing North Korea."

South Korean Sports Minister Do Jong-hwan also said he hopes the upcoming Winter Olympics will usher in an era of peace and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula.

"We'll do the best we can if the PyeongChang Olympics can help reduce military tensions on the Korean Peninsula, improve inter-Korean relations and restore peace on the peninsula," Do said.

Some experts, however, advise against expecting too much.

"Inter-Korean issues and the North's nuclear program are subjects that cannot be separated. I'm skeptical as to whether the latest talks could become a turning point in fundamentally resolving the nuclear problem," Choi Kang, vice head of the Asan Institute of Policy Studies, said.

Kim Yeon-chul, professor of North Korean studies at Inje University, also advised South Korean officials not to rush.

"It's the first inter-Korean dialogue in two years, but there has actually been a nine-year hiatus in ties. The problems that have accumulated in that time are vast and heavy. Solving inter-Korean problems should be approached slowly and not rushed," said Kim.

This file photo shows Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon on Jan. 2, 2017, proposing high-level talks with North Korea at the government complex in central Seoul. (Yonhap)

odissy@yna.co.kr
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