By Kim Young-jin
South and North Korea must resolve pending safety issues before discussing the potential of co-hosting the 2018 Winter Olympics to be held in PyeongChang, a government official said Wednesday.
Seoul has said it is open to related discussions but not actively looking into the matter. Any such move would need the approval of the International Olympic Committee, which observers say is highly unlikely.
“It’s possible as an idea,” Unification Ministry spokeswoman Lee Jong-joo told reporters. “But for co-hosting to be possible, security issues of people going to North Korea needs to be solved. We’re not considering or examining anything seriously at the moment.”
She stressed, however, the importance of talks over a stalled joint tourism project in Mt. Geumgang in the North, which discontinued after the 2008 shooting death of a South Korean visitor.
The remarks followed a statement by Jang Ung, a North Korean member of the International Olympic Committee, who told reporters in Tokyo that the North hopes to share events with PyeongChang. The host city is located in Gangwon Provice, which straddles both South and North Korea.
It was the first reaction from a North Korean official after PyeongChang beat out Munich of Germany and Annecy of France last week to win the rights to host the 2018 Winter Games.
The successful bid set off a flurry of activity among lawmakers, with ruling and opposition parties agreeing to make efforts to field a unified Korean team and jointly train athletes. Rep. Sohn Hak-kyu, chairman of the opposition Democratic Party, said Monday he would explore ways to co-host the event.
Bahng Tae-seop, a North Korea watcher at the Samsung Economic Research Institute, said the stepped up security at that time would force the North to make an important decision regarding the Games.
“The South Korean military, as well as the U.S. military, will need to prepare against threats such as terrorism given the international scope of the event,” he said.
“That will be seen as a threat against the regime. It will be a matter of rational choice ― accepting any chance to co-host, remain silent or, in the worst case, resort to more bad behavior.”
After Seoul hosted the Summer Olympics in 1988, the North responded defiantly by holding its own sporting event involving East European countries, he said.
He said Beijing, which has been pressuring Pyongyang to reform its economy, would likely push its impoverished neighbor to accept any initiative relating to the Games and opening its markets.
Kim Jong-un, the heir apparent son of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, would likely be in power by then, so the regime could have an added incentive to make an impressive international debut at the same time, he added.
Still many remain skeptical, citing factors such as the North’s lack of proper infrastructure and the possibility that it will suddenly pull out amid a spike in tensions, dealing a blow to the PyeongChang Olympics.
They also doubt the IOC will approve the move as it awards the event to cities, not countries.
Pyongyang supported the PyeongChang’s bid in 2007 but relations have plummeted more recently in the wake of two deadly provocations by the North last year.