Now Korean talks turn to possibility of torch relay visiting North
Talks are being held over the possibility of the Olympic torch relay for next February’s winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea visiting either Pyongyang, North Korea’s capital, or Mount Kumkang, also located across the border from South Korea, according to an exclusive report in the Korea Herald.
A source “familiar with the games’ ongoing preparations” told the newspaper: “There have been consistent talks within the International Olympic Committee meetings here to send the torch to Mount Kumkang or Pyongyang during the final stages of the relay in Gangwon Province - with distance and time in consideration.”
The report follows earlier claims of negotiations over a possible role for North Korea, in a bid to ease tensions with its neighbour, including the (apparently far-fetched) possibility that the two Koreas could be represented by a combined team at the games.
Under existing plans, the torch is due to arrive in South Korea on 1 November from Athens, before touring 17 cities nationwide and a further 18 cities and counties in Gangwon Province, where PyeongChang is located.
However, the source said: “The committee’s talks of the plan are temporarily halted due to diplomatic circumstances. It is expected to reinstate once inter-Korean ties recover.”
The two Koreas are technically still at war since an armistice brought hostilities to an end in 1953, and tensions have been raised by recent inter-continental ballistic missile tests by North Korea. Their teams have marched together at the opening ceremonies of various Olympic Games in the past, but a unified team has never competed at the games.
Do Jong-whan, South Korea’s minister of culture, sports and tourism, told Yonhap news agency on Friday that, despite the tensions, the South Korean government would continue its efforts to maintain sporting relations with the north.
He said: “A realistic military standoff exists in inter-Korea relations. It’s feared that our [sports exchange] efforts will end in vain, if an ICBM [intercontinental ballistic missile] is fired [in the north] and the THAAD [Terminal High Altitude Area Defence] battery is deployed in [the south].
“Problems get solved when military tensions ease after reaching a peak. That’s repeatedly happened in inter-Korea relations, so we have to continue our efforts until the end.”