Pyongyang says no to the Olympics fearing COVID-19 more than Beijing's wrath
For Kim’s regime, fighting the pandemic is the top priority. However, North Korea fears Chinese political and economic retaliation. The US boycott weighed on the decision since Washington is viewed by North Korea as the only negotiating partner that can end its international isolation.
Seoul (AsiaNews) – Kim Jong-Un’s regime is more afraid of COVID-19 than China’s anger, which is why it has decided not to participate in the Beijing Winter Olympics next month, this according to a report by Daily NK.
A high-level North Korean source told the online paper linked to the South Korean Ministry for Unification that North Korean decision-makers struggled with what to do.
Kim made the final decision at the recent plenary meeting of the Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea, which has ruled the country since the end of World War II.
After North Korea failed to send athletes to the Tokyo Games, the International Olympic Committee banned it from competing at the 2022 Olympics, a decision it later reversed. For their part, North Korean authorities picked the athletes and staff to send to the Games.
In Pyongyang, the Foreign Ministry pushed for North Korea to attend the Olympics or at least send an official delegation to the opening ceremony, pointing to potential economic and political pressure from China after the games
However, faced with the threat posed by the Omicron variant of the SARS-CoV2 virus, and the fact that North Korean athletes are not vaccinated, the Central Committee opted to stay away from the Olympic Games and concentrate on the fight against COVID-19.
As a result of international sanctions against the regime over its nuclear and missile programmes, North Korea has only real partner: China. About 90 per cent of its foreign trade is with its big neighbour.
Fresh US sanctions after North Korea’s latest missile tests will make Pyongyang even more dependent on Beijing.
According to the source interviewed by Daily NK, Kim's decision was also affected by Washington’s decision to impose a "diplomatic boycott” and not send an official delegation to the Games.
As with the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea, Pyongyang planned to use the Beijing event to pursue high-level diplomatic exchanges.
The absence of the United States, viewed as the only real negotiating partner that can end its international isolation, undermined this.
North Korea's non-participation in the Games is not only a setback for Beijing, but also for Seoul.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in wanted to use the Olympics in China to jumpstart the peace process with Pyongyang, seeking a declaration that would formally end the 1950-53 war.