A North Korean leader awaited at the opening of the Olympic Games in South Korea
Kim Yong-Nam (left) walks after Kim Jong-Un after witnessing a military parade at Kim Il-Sung Square in Pyongyang, on May 10, 2016
The North Korean head of state, Kim Yong-Nam, whose function is honorary, will attend this week the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games in South Korea, which marks another sign of “detente” between both countries.
The Olympic Games of Pyeongchang, which will be held from 9 to 25 February, allowed an unexpected improvement in relations between the two Koreas since January, after several years of tensions over the development of Pyongyang’s nuclear and ballistic programs.
From the protocol point of view, Kim Yong-Nam will be the highest-ranking North Korean official to move south of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), the border that divides the peninsula since the Korean War (1950-1953).
At the diplomatic level, your visit will be the highlight of the rapprochement between both parties thanks to the Olympic Winter Games. For now it is impossible to predict whether this “detente” will go beyond the Olympic truce.
In 2016 and 2017, North Korea conducted three nuclear tests and dozens of ballistic missile tests, claiming that it achieved its military objective, which is to be able to attack the continental United States.
For months, North Korea ignored invitations from its Southern counterpart to participate in the Olympic Games that Seoul promoted as the “Peace Games”. But North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un surprised the world on January 1 by announcing he would send an Olympic delegation.
– With Pence too –
The intense diplomatic process between the two Koreas includes a joint parade with the same flag at the opening ceremony and the historic participation of a common team in women’s ice hockey, for the first time in 27 years.
The Unification Ministry of South Korea announced on Sunday that Kim Yong-Nam, the highest authority of the Presidium of the North Korean Supreme People’s Assembly, the parliament controlled by the single party, will attend the opening.
Kim Yong-Nam, who is not related to Kim Jong-Un, will arrive on Friday for a three-day visit in the company of other leaders and 18 councilors, the statement said.
The North Korean official agency KCNA indicated that the delegation will visit South Korea “to attend the opening ceremony of the 23rd Winter Olympic Games.”
Another guest at the ceremony is Mike Pence, the vice president of the United States, after President Donald Trump and Kim Jong-Un have publicly insulted each other in recent months.
At the moment it is difficult to determine the political weight that Kim Yong-Nam will really have, as honorary head of state of North Korea, who will become the leader with the highest office in his country to visit South Korea.
– Meeting with Moon? –
Kim Jong-Un is not president of North Korea because his grandfather Kim Il-Sung, founder of the regime, is still considered “eternal President of the People’s Democratic Republic of Korea”, 24 years after his death.
It is for this reason that until now it was an uncertainty who was to lead the North Korean delegation.
For Kim Yong-Nam’s protocol range, he should theoretically be received by South Korean President Moon Jae-In, said Cheong Seong-Chang, a political scientist at the Sejong Institute.
“In the party hierarchy, Kim Yong-Nam, is the second, immediately after Kim Jong-Un,” he explained. “I would interpret it as a sign of Kim Jong-Un’s willingness to improve inter-Korean relations,” he said.
If they do meet, Kim Yong-Nam may invite Moon to Pyongyang for an upcoming summit with Kim Jong-Un, he added.
Moon, center-left, was elected last year and from the beginning advocated the resumption of dialogue with Pyongyang, despite international sanctions that weigh on North Korea.