South Korean official: Too late to host 2018 Olympics with North Korea

A South Korean governor says he wants participation with North Korea in the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, but there’s simply not enough time to consider co-hosting the event.

Choi Moon-soon, governor of Gangwon province, which will host the Pyeongchang Winter Games, told CNN that while hosting events in North Korea would be impossible, he will be meeting with a North Korean official next week.

“We don’t have enough time to organize between the two Korean teams, but I am scheduled to meet North Korean (International Olympic Committee) member Chang Ung next week — I will propose positive participation in the Pyeongchang Olympic Games.”

Speaking to reporters Friday, Chang said he was “aware that much has been discussed in the media” about a potential co-hosting agreement, and said he would pass on what he was told to Pyongyang.

Choi said his proposal — which includes cooperation on public performances and ice hockey — would only work if the IOC agreed to allow North Korea a “wild card” entry into the games, for which it has not qualified.

Do Jong-hwan, South Korean minister of culture, sports and tourism, said he would “push ahead for discussions with the IOC and other relevant entities” in the hopes of hosting an “Olympics for peace.”

Choi’s suggestion comes after South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who advocates greater engagement with North Korea, suggested the two could launch a joint bid for the 2030 football World Cup.

Unlike the World Cup, which has yet to be awarded, South Korea already has the 2018 Olympics, which are due to kick off in February in the mountain resort town of Pyeongchang, northeast of Seoul.

Missile tests

While many in South Korea are keen to see reduced tensions with their northern neighbor, achieving the balancing act required to co-host an international sporting event might be too much for two countries still technically at war.

Despite Moon’s public statements that he wants to improve relations with North Korea, Pyongyang has ramped up missile testing and continued its aggressive rhetoric towards its southern neighbor and the US.

On Friday, South Korea tested a ballistic missile which officials said would be capable of “incapacitating North Korean nuclear and missile treats.”

Speaking after the test, Moon said while he prefers dialog with Pyongyang, such a stance is only possible “if we have strong defense.”

That missile launch came after North Korea reportedly tested a rocket engine.

Earlier this month, Pyongyang rejected an offer by a South Korean civic group to provide anti-malaria supplies, the first cross border exchange approved by Seoul since January 2016.

Pyongyang said it wouldn’t allow the visit due to new UN sanctions against it that South Korea supported.

In a commentary Friday, North Korean state-controlled newspaper Rodong Sinmun said that if South Korea pursues peace with the North, it should “stop all hostilities,” including sanctions.

“What (North Korea) demands is that the north and the south open a new phase of national reconciliation and unity, recognizing each other as partner of reunification and joining their hands,” the paper said.

“If the South Korean authorities continue to go for confrontation, refusing to accept this will and intention, we will make our own option.”

Sporting rivalry

Despite hostile relations on the peninsula, South and North Korea do have a strong sporting history, particularly with regard to football.

The two teams regularly play each other in friendlies and at international competitions. In April, South Korea’s women’s soccer team traveled to Pyongyang for an Asian Cup qualifier.

However, an attempt to reach an agreement on co-hosting the 1988 Olympics, held in Seoul, broke down and North Korea ended up boycotting the games.

Choi said that while he expected “some resistance” from Pyongyang, “the Olympics is a very good opportunity so we cannot let this once in a generation moment slip by.”

John Delury, a professor at Yonsei University’s Graduate School of International Relations, said the games were an appropriate venue to at least try to mend ties.

“The whole point of the Olympics is to use sports as a way to bridge even the most acrimonious political divides,” he said.

“Given President Moon Jae-in’s underlying belief in the need for dialogue, reconciliation and cooperation between the two Koreas, it certainly makes sense that South Korea would try some form of co-hosting. Whether Pyongyang is capable of being engaged is a question that can only be answered by trying.”