Seoul, South Korea (AP)-North Korea has become the first country in the world to withdraw from the Tokyo Olympics due to the coronavirus.
Indeed, the North is extremely sensitive to COVID-19, knowing that in a country where the health system has been severely damaged, a large-scale outbreak can be a disaster.
However, North Korea has also used major sporting events to establish diplomatic relations with the United States in the past to win much-needed sanctions relief in exchange for nuclear disarmament commitments. When North sent a message to Washington, some people thought that they would withdraw from the Olympics.
Look at North Korea’s decision and its implications.
Legal virus fear
An official website stated on Tuesday that the North Korean Olympic Committee has decided not to participate in the Tokyo Olympics, which are scheduled to start in July, “to protect athletes from the world public health crisis caused by COVID-1
North Korea has previously boycotted the Olympic Games and other international sports events for political reasons, or did not show up without any qualified athletes or teams. However, according to the Ministry of Unification in Seoul, this is the first time North Korea has withdrawn from a major international sports event on the grounds of an infectious disease.
Pyongyang is known for withdrawing from talks with Seoul and Washington, returning to Pyongyang at the last minute to strengthen its bargaining power. However, given that the country has always maintained a high level of vigilance against COVID-19, experts said that it is almost impossible for the country to change its decision on the Olympic Games.
Park Won Gon, a professor of North Korean studies at Ewha Womans University in Seoul, said North Korea has shown neurosis related to the coronavirus since it announced an emergency antivirus system in January last year.
Park said that it is extremely unlikely that North Korea will provide enough vaccines for its 26 million people before July, or report significant progress in its fight against the virus.
North Korean officials know that in a country with decades of plagued public medical infrastructure, a major virus outbreak will have disastrous consequences. So far, North Korea has taken some of the world’s toughest anti-virus measures, including the 15-month closure of international borders and the departure of foreign nationals.
North Korea still officially declares that it does not contain the coronavirus, and many foreign experts question this.
Xu Yushuo of the Seoul-based Korean Studies Institute said that North Korea’s decision not to participate in the Olympics shows that “it believes that contact with foreigners is now the most dangerous thing”.
News from washington
The announcement by North Korea three months before the opening of the Olympics may indicate that Pyongyang is rejecting Seoul’s repeated efforts to use the Olympics to create an atmosphere of dialogue. This may also indicate a determination to increase the pressure on the new president of the United States, Joe Biden.
Kwak Gil Sup, head of One Korea Center, a website that specializes in North Korean affairs, said that North Korea’s message is that it now wants to deal directly with the United States instead of using the Olympics as a venue for talks with Washington. .
The now deadlocked nuclear dialogue between Pyongyang and Washington began in 2018 after North Korea participated in the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in South Korea earlier that year and reconciliation was achieved on the Korean peninsula.
During those Olympic Games, athletes from South Korea marched together with a unified flag at the opening ceremony, and formed the first women’s ice hockey team in South Korea’s history. Since the end of the Korean War in 1950-53, Kim Yo Jong, the influential sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, became the first member of the North Korean ruling family to visit South Korea.
In the past two years, there has been little progress in nuclear negotiations. North Korea conducted the first test of such weapons in the past year and launched two ballistic missiles into the sea. Kim You Jong once warned Washington not to “cause a bad smell” and called the South Korean president “a parrot proposed by the United States.”
Experts say that North Korea ultimately hopes to negotiate with the Biden administration to win sanctions relief and establish better ties, because North Korea’s economy has deteriorated severely under the impact of last year’s pandemic, US-led sanctions and natural disasters.
Analyst Xu said that North Korea may not be sure of the benefits of participating in the Tokyo Olympics because Biden has made it clear that he will not conduct a televised summit with Kim Jong Un like former President Donald Trump did.
Seo said: “They knew they would return home from Tokyo empty-handed.”
However, North Korea’s domestic difficulties may prompt North Korea to engage in dialogue with the United States as soon as possible.
Xu said that if the Biden administration is not satisfied with the upcoming policy review of North Korea, North Korea will conduct large-scale weapons tests, such as the launch of intercontinental ballistic missiles, in the next few months.