North Korea has announced that it will not participate in the Tokyo Olympic Games due to coronavirus concerns, with South Korea expressing hope that the Games could act as a catalyst to restore suspended peace talks.
In a statement on Monday, a website run by North Korea’s sports ministry said the country’s Olympic Committee had “decided not to take part in this year’s Games to protect athletes from the global public health crisis due to Kovid-19.”
The decision comes after North Korea missed the Summer Olympics for the first time since it boycotted Seoul in the 1967 Cold War.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in had hoped that the two countries were technically at war.
The withdrawal of the North from Tokyo was also a push of plans, with Moon and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un agreeing to host the 20233 Games at the 2018 conference.
On Tuesday, South Korea’s unification ministry in charge of inter-Korean affairs said Seoul hoped the Tokyo Olympics would be an opportunity to “build peace and reconciliation between the two Koreas.”
“We regret that this did not happen,” it added in the statement.
When South Korea hosted the Pyongyang Winter Olympics in 2018, North Korea sent 22 athletes, including government officials, performance artists, journalists and a 230-member all-female cheering group.
At the Winter Games, North and South Korean athletes jointly advanced under a blue map as a symbol of the unified Korean Peninsula, and the two countries’ women fielded their first joint Olympic team in women’s ice hockey, losing five of them to a combined 28-2. Co games.
These games were also about politics. The North Korean delegation included the powerful sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who expressed his brother’s desire for a summit with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, a move that helped launch diplomacy with South Korea and the United States.
The diplomacy fell into disrepair, and tensions on the Korean Peninsula escalated last month when the North resumed missile tests, although both sides said after the launch that they wanted to continue talks.
Japan’s Olympic Minister Tama Yo Marukawa told reporters on Tuesday that he was still confirming the details and could not immediately comment. Japan’s Olympic Committee has said it has not yet informed North Korea that it will not participate in the Tokyo Games.
North Korea has previously had hostile relations with Japan and no formal diplomatic relations between the two countries, although talks have been held before.
Tokyo has also reported the abduction of several Pyongyang nationals, and Japan has expressed concern over North Korea’s ballistic missile tests in recent years, one of which landed in the Pacific Ocean across Japan.
North Korea had previously boycotted the 1964 Summer Games in Tokyo, although it sent delegations to both the 1922 Sapporo Winter Games and the 1999 Nagano Winter Games.
At a meeting between the Olympic Committee and Sports Minister Kim Il-gook on March 25, the ministry decided to withdraw from Tokyo, the ministry said on its website.
North Korea’s state-run KCNA news agency previously reported the committee meeting without mentioning the Olympic decision.
The March 25 meeting also discussed ways to develop professional sports technology, win more medals in international competitions and expand public sports activities over the next five years, the ministry said.
NK News website reports that domestic sports events across the country will continue, including the national sports competition that began on the occasion of “Sun Day” in Pyongyang on Monday – the birth date of North Korean founder Kim Il Sung is April 15.
Pyongyang has claimed it has no coronavirus cases, although experts are skeptical. The North describes its anti-virus efforts as a “matter of national existence” and has restricted traffic across borders, banned tourists, expelled diplomats and left thousands of people with symptoms.