SEOUL, South Korea (AP) – North Korea with reference to coronavirus has become the world’s first country to drop out of the Olympics in Tokyo.
It is true that the Nordic region is extremely sensitive to COVID-19, knowing that a widespread outbreak in a country with an already violent health system could be a disaster.
But North Korea has also in the past used major sporting events to set up diplomacy with the United States, which was to win the much-needed sanctions aid in return for nuclear disarmament promises. Some see themselves pulling out of the Olympics as Nord sends Washington a message.
LEGAL VIRUS FEARERS
A state-run website said Tuesday that the North Korean Olympic Committee has decided not to participate in the Tokyo Games, scheduled to begin in July “to protect players from the world’s public health crisis caused by COVID-19.”
North Korea has previously boycotted the Olympics and other international sporting events for political reasons or failed to show up when none of its athletes or teams qualified. But this is the first time North Korea is pulling out of a major international sporting event citing a contagious disease, according to Seoul’s Ministry of Unity.
Pyongyang has developed a reputation for withdrawing from talks with Seoul and Washington before returning at the last minute to increase its bargaining power. However, given that the country has been on high alert over COVID-19, experts say there is little chance it will reverse its decision on the Olympics.
North Korea has shown “a coronavirus-related neurosis since declaring an anti-virus system last January,” said Park Won Gon, a professor of North Korean studies at Seoul’s Ewha Womans University.
Park said it is highly unlikely that North Korea will secure enough vaccines for its 26 million people or report major progress in its antivirus battle by July.
North Korean officials know how catastrophic a major virus outbreak would be in a nation with public health infrastructure that has been in shambles for decades. North Korea has so far taken some of the world’s most draconian anti-virus measures, including a 15-month closure of its international borders and the departure of foreign nationals.
North Korea still claims to be officially free of coronavirus, a claim that many foreign experts dispute.
North Korea’s decision to skip the Olympics shows that it “believes that contact with foreigners is the most dangerous thing now,” said Seo Yu-Seok at the Seoul-based Institute of North Korean Studies.
AN ANNOUNCEMENT TO WASHINGTON
The North Korean announcement, three months before the games begin, could signal that Pyongyang is rejecting a repeated push from Seoul to use the Olympics to create a mood for dialogue. It could also show a determination to increase pressure on the new government of US President Joe Biden.
North Korea is sending the message that it wants to deal directly with the United States now instead of using the Olympics as a place to reach out to Washington for negotiations, said Kwak Gil Sup, head of the One Korea Center, a site specializing in North Korea. affairs. .
Now-locked nuclear talks between Pyongyang and Washington began in 2018 following a reconciliation on the Korean Peninsula following North Korea’s participation in the Pyeongchang Winter Games in the South earlier that year.
During these Olympics, athletes from Korea marched together under a single unit flag during the opening ceremony, forming Korea’s first ever joint team in women’s ice hockey. Kim Yo Jong, the influential sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, became the first member of the Nordic ruling family to visit South Korea since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War.
There has been some progress in nuclear talks over the last two years. North Korea recently fired two ballistic missiles into the sea in the first such weapons tests in a year. Kim Yo Jong has warned Washington not to “cause a stink” and called the South Korean president “a parrot raised by America.”
Experts say North Korea eventually wants talks with the Biden administration to win sanctions relief and achieve better ties because its economy has been devastated by the pandemic, US-led sanctions and natural disasters last year.
Analyst Seo said North Korea was likely unsure of the benefits of attending the Tokyo Games because Biden has made it clear he will not attend summits with Kim Jong Un, as his predecessor Donald Trump did.
“They knew they would return home empty-handed from Tokyo,” Seo said.
But North Korea’s domestic difficulties may force it to resume talks with the United States soon.
Seo said North Korea could carry out major arms tests, such as an intercontinental ballistic missile launch, in the coming months if it is not satisfied with the Biden government’s North Korean political review, which is expected to be completed soon.