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Asia Today ISSN 1861-4604 Wednesday, August 15, 2018

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North Korea aims to charm as Olympics preparations begin

Winter Olympics

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SEOUL, South Korea - As preparations are being made for next month's Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, the two Koreas too are immersed in plans after South Korea agreed to allow North Korean athletes to attend the event next month. 

On Wednesday, a joint statement released by Seoul's unification ministry said that the two Koreas agreed to form a combined women's ice hockey team to take part in next month's Winter Olympics - making it the rivals’ first unified Olympic team.

Further, both the countries are said to have decided to march together under a unified peninsula flag at the opening ceremony.

According to the statement by South Korea’s president, North Korea is planning to send a 230-member cheering squad as part of its delegation to the Olympics.

As part of its 550-member delegation, North Korea is sending 230 cheerleaders, 140 artists and 30 taekwondo players for a demonstration, officials revealed.

Further, the statement added that the North Korean delegation is scheduled to begin arriving in South Korea on January 25.

Addressing one of the more contentious issues, officials said that the North's delegation will use a western land route that leads to the now-shuttered joint industrial complex in the North Korean border city of Gaesong.

In addition to the joint preparations being made - the two Koreas have also agreed to hold a joint cultural event at Mount. Kumgang in the North before the opening ceremony.

The two countries will also conduct a joint training among ski athletes at Masikryong Ski Resort in the North.

However, it still remains unclear how many North Korean athletes will come to Pyeongchang because none are currently qualified. 

The South Korean media predicts that only up to ten North Korean athletes will end up being covered by an additional quota from the IOC.

A pair of North Korean figure skaters qualified for this year’s Olympics, but North Korea missed a deadline to confirm their participation. 

Recently, the IOC said that it has “kept the door open” for North Korea to take part in the games. 

Now, all the aspects discussed on Wednesday between officials from the two countries will be discussed at the International Olympic Committee's meeting with officials from the Koreas.

The meeting is scheduled to be held on Saturday in Lausanne, Switzerland.

In the third day of talks at the border in about a week, senior officials reached a package of agreements which have emerged as the most prominent steps toward rapprochement achieved by the Koreas since they recently began exploring cooperation during the Olympics.

The first attempt to engage in conversation, which was proposed by the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in his New Year speech, comes after a year of heightened tensions over the North’s nuclear weapons program.

Now, in a bid to retain the open talks in the future, beyond the Olympics, South Korea is carefully reviewing ways to greet the North's Olympic delegation in a way that does not violate multilayered sanctions on North Korea.

South Korea can't offer cash directly to the North when it supports delegates' accommodation expenses as per the UN sanctions.

Meanwhile, on Wednesday, Japan’s Foreign Minister Taro Kono addressed an international meeting on North Korea and warned that the world should not be blinded by Pyongyang's recent "charm offensive.”

While many have credited the inter-Korean talks with easing tensions on the troubled peninsula, Kono warned countries not to let their guard down.

He explained, "I am aware that some people argue that because North Korea is engaging in inter-Korean dialogue, we should reward them by lifting up sanctions or by providing some sort of assistance. Frankly, I think this view is just too naive. I believe that North Korea wants to buy some time to continue their nuclear missile programme."

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