Tokyo (AP) — North Korea has not participated in the Tokyo Olympics this summer. And there is a political story that is one of sports and viruses, but above all complicated.
Although not a headline here, the absence of North Korea is particularly noteworthy, especially among those looking at the crossroads of sports and diplomacy. And how North Korean propaganda aircraft gain international attention to advance their needs.
In contrast to the previous game, the no-show is particularly impressive. Perhaps the hottest story of the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, was the North Korean delegation, which included 22 athletes, hundreds of cheerleaders, and the strong sister of leader Kim Jong Un.
The coronavirus is the number one reason North Korea has decided not to come to Tokyo. Countries that are always very sensitive to infectious disease outbreaks have closed their borders even harder than usual, worried that their fragile health care systems and volatile economies will not be able to withstand large-scale outbreaks. It, in turn, can jeopardize the dominant Kim family’s grip on power.
But there are other jobs, according to analysts.
North Korean sports, like many in the country, are intertwined with calculations about the pursuit of nuclear-armed long-range missile programs targeting the continental United States. After a brief period of involvement, Kim Jong Un is now afraid of the introduction of another virus, a cultural virus from the wealthy South, and may be competing for his time until next year’s Winter Games. They take place in China, which is a longtime ally with a shared border.
Kim may also have decided that there is nothing to be gained from nuclear diplomacy at the Tokyo Olympics, as Washington has shown no intention of accepting Pyongyang’s request to end sanctions.
There is no sport in the northern internal void where the domestic audience consumes messages controlled by the government at every stage. For the propaganda Maven, who seeks to maintain national unity and political loyalty, everything there is potential feed.
Kim Jong Un uses North Korea’s absence from the Tokyo Olympics as a way to let his people know that it is more important to protect them from the coronavirus than the glory that his athletes would have enjoyed. maybe.
“North Korea excels at promoting at international sporting events,” said Lee Sung-yun, a professor of Korean studies at Tufts University Fletcher School in Massachusetts.
Therefore, it may have been a difficult decision for North Korea not to participate in the Tokyo Olympics. Lee said Kim Yo-jong, the leader’s sister.
Joshua Pollack, a North Korean expert at the Middlebury International Institute in Monterey, said the missed opportunity to earn propaganda points “reflects a serious COVID paranoia.” The country is clearly not ready for the Delta variant, he says, “and the Olympic Village seems like a great way to bring it home.”
September provided a vivid example of fear of the North Korean virus. Seoul has accused North Korea of fatally shooting and killing a South Korean fisherman found in North Korean waters and then burning his body.
“They don’t have the medicine to treat COVID-19, their medical infrastructure is not in good condition and they are not vaccinated,” said Kim Jor-soo, an analyst at the Korean Military Research Institute in South Korea. Said. “So going to the Olympics and winning two gold medals may not seem like much.”
Geopolitical considerations may also be relevant. Violent colonial rule on the Korean Peninsula before and during World War II, unlike the 2018 Pyeongchang Games, where North Korea was deeply interested in reaching the heart and mind of the South There is no desire to get along with Japan, who was a person.
In Pyeongchang, North Korea had no real medal candidates, but it was one of the hottest countries in the tournament, with a huge delegation highlighted by a cheering squad of all 229 women. ..
After months of US-North Korean tensions prior to these tournaments, the two Korean athletes marched together to the Olympic Stadium under the “Unification Flag.” They defended a joint women’s ice hockey team. And Kim Yo-jong visited the south for the first time by members of the Kim dynasty since the end of the Korean War in 1950-53.
Diplomacy also blossomed after these games, highlighted by several summits between then-US President Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un, as well as by Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in.
But not so much, and North Korea is still facing hard-line sanctions that are ruining its economy. As a result, South Korea has agreed to restore its interrupted communications channels and improve relations this week, but has had little to do with its rivals since.
When North Korea competes in the Olympics, sports often lag behind politics. The country has put a lot of effort into managing the athlete and his message, but there are still moments of amazing, unscripted contact with other athletes. For example, in Pyeongchang, self-portraits of North Korean and South Korean skaters with smiles became a hot topic online.
And what about the sport itself? North Korea should have been successful in Tokyo in weightlifting, boxing, women’s wrestling and women’s marathons. But fear seems to outweigh the perceived benefits.
They include concerns about external influences that permeate the country, especially Korean culture. “The contrast between the prosperous South and the struggling North is less talkative these days,” Pollack said.
Some expect North Korea to resurface from its voluntary blockade next year when China, its main political and aid lifeline, hosts the Winter Olympics.
Weapon testing can be done months before those games if past behavior is a symptom. North Korea is likely to avoid what it considers to be a provocation at the Tokyo Olympics, but such tests could be conducted when US and South Korean soldiers conduct military exercises each year next month.
“Conflicts and subsequent dialogues are always the most effective,” said Lee, a professor at Tufts University. “I expect the administration to enhance its” net value “with martial arts-like performances, just as top athletes do at international sports competitions before the Beijing Winter Olympics. “
Seoul AP writer Kim Hyunjin contributed to this story. Foster Krug, the Associated Press news director for Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific, has covered Asia since 2005 and is based in Tokyo. Other AP Olympics: https: //apnews.com/hub/2020-tokyo-olympics and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
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