Kim Jong-un has cancelled a joint ‘cultural event’ with South Korea ahead of the Winter Olympics, after complaining about ‘biased’ media reports.
The two countries had been due to stage the event at North Korea’s Mount Kumgang on February 4 – just days before the Games in Pyeongchang get underway.
But Pyongyang, which has agreed to send a delegation to the sports extravaganza, has now called the meeting off blaming ‘biased’ coverage in the media, according to Seoul’s unification ministry.
Seoul and Pyongyang had also pledged to hold joint training sessions at North Korea’s Masik Pass ski resort. A team of South Korean officials inspected the facilities last week.
Kim Jong-un (pictured) has cancelled a joint ‘cultural event’ with South Korea ahead of the Winter Olympics, after complaining about ‘biased’ media reports
The decision followed a surprise proposal by Kim in his annual New Year’s address for the North to send a delegation to the Games.
Though some have called the move an attempt to deflect attention away from the North’s nuclear program and drive a wedge between Washington and Seoul, South Korea has generally welcomed the idea and the two countries have held high-level talks and exchanged advance teams to work out the details.
North Korea has a relatively thin history of alpine skiing, but Kim has used the resort to promote the sport.
The resort is a popular winter stop for foreign tourists. More often, though, it’s used by schools or factories or other workplaces to reward workers who have shown extra effort on the job.
Despite international sanctions on luxury items, the resort is well equipped with skis and ski equipment from all over the world.
Bringing even a tiny slice of the Olympic extravaganza to the ski resort would be a coup for Kim.
His regime is placing a high priority on developing Masik – along with the nearby port city of Wonsan and the scenic Mount Kumgang – as a tourist attraction over the next year.
The area has been designated as a focus for construction projects, including more hotels.
In 2015, it got a new airport, though it has been used only for domestic flights since.
However, the United States recently slapped a travel ban on North Korea following the death of tourist and college student Otto Warmbier, who died shortly after his release from North Korean custody and return to the U.S.
With China also tightening its sanctions on the North, significantly increasing the flow of tourists would likely involve opening the door to more South Koreans.
That would require better relations and less animosity than what has been the norm in recent years, when ties have been chilly at best.
The possibility of being used for the North’s advertising purposes, meanwhile, has raised some concern in the South.
In a move that might also ruffle some feathers south of the Demilitarized Zone, North Korea is also expected to hold a major military event, probably a parade, on the day before the Pyeongchang Olympics opening ceremony.
Even so, for the time being at least, Pyongyang appears to be looking for an Olympic truce – and, maybe, a bit of the Pyeongchang spotlight.