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Geopolitics the other race at PyeongChang Olympics

8 February 2018 2:37 PM
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Beijing: North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has gone ahead with a military parade the day before the Winter Olympics’ opening ceremony in South Korea in an act that some will see as provocative.

However, the regime did not broadcast live images of the event, South Korean media reported.

The Yonhap News Agency said about 13,000 troops participated while 50,000 spectators watched. Four Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM), capable of reaching the United States, and which sparked the ire of the international community when they were tested last year, were among the hardware paraded past Kim Jong-un, his wife and sister Kim Yo-jong.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has said he hopes the Winter Olympics is not just a photo opportunity but will create the conditions for serious dialogue to defuse the North Korean nuclear crisis.

Mr Guterres said talks between North Korea and the United States is "absolutely necessary", South Korean media reported. He will attend the opening ceremony on Friday.

Until the low-key parade in the capital, Pyongyang, the only marching North Koreans to be seen were a female band, resplendent in red and gold, welcoming athletes to the Olympic village in neighbouring South Korea.

It comes as the Hermit Kingdom waits to hear whether the United Nations Security Council will grant sanction exemptions to allow all members of its high-level delegation to attend the winter Olympics opening ceremony on Friday.

Kim Jong-un's sister, Kim Yo-jong will arrive in South Korea on Friday, likely aboard the North Korean leader's private jet, which is exempt from UN sanctions.

She will be the first member of his family to set foot on South Korean soil, and is expected to meet with South Korean president Moon Jae-in and hand him a personal letter from her brother, South Korean media has reported.

But South Korea is in discussions with the United States over her travel because she is blacklisted by the US.

The UN sanctions are being delicately handled: North Korea requested drinking water and fuel be provided to the boat that had transported 140 members of a dancing and singing troupe, who were to give a concert on Thursday evening, and later perform in Seoul on Sunday.

An exemption had allowed the ferry to enter the South Korean port, but South Korea provided clean water only for the performers living on the boat, as officials sought advice on whether the boat could refuel.

Associated Press reported that a committee of the United Nations Security Council on Thursday proposed granting an exemption for blacklisted senior official Choe Hwi, the chairman of North Korea's National Sports Guidance Committee, to travel on Friday.

The North Korean delegation will be headed by its ceremonial head of state, Kim Yong-nam, 90, the president of the Supreme People's Assembly, and the most senior official to ever cross the border.

Twenty-two North Korean athletes in five sports, including figure skating, speed skating, and a dozen female hockey players competing in a combined Korean team, will enter the Olympic stadium with South Korean athletes behind a unified Korean Peninsula flag. Up to 500 North Koreans, including performers, media, officials and demonstration athletes will attend.

The Korean Herald wrote in an editorial on Thursday that the 1988 Seoul Olympics had laid the groundwork for South Korea to establish official ties with Russia and China, and geopolitics was playing a big part again at PyeongChang.

But it noted conservative South Koreans and US officials were concerned North Korea's large presence at the Olympics could caused cracks in the international alliance opposing North Korea's nuclear ambitions.

"We hope that politics do not stand in the way of the proceedings of the Olympics at least, and that the peace momentum could lead to a more meaningful development."

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres and US vice-president Mike Pence will attend the opening ceremony.

But Pence will bring the father of Otto Warmbier, the young American who died after being detained in North Korea, as his guest to the ceremony and has said Washington is preparing its "toughest sanctions ever" on North Korea.

Washington has warned it does not want North Korean propaganda to highjack the Olympics.

North Korean's foreign ministry bureau director Cho Yong-sam responded saying North Korea didn't want to use a sports festival as a political space: "We have no intention to meet with the US side during visit to South Korea."

And there is no prospect that Kim Yo Jong, who will attend the Olympics this weekend, will cross paths with Ivanka Trump, who will attend the closing ceremony a fortnight later.

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