The British Embassy in Pyongyang has attracted attention today after it emerged that embassy funding helped 17-year old disabled swimmer Rim Ju Song attend a Paralympics qualifying event in Berlin last weekend, an event at which Rim did enough to go forward to the main Paralympics next month.
Following his success in Berlin, Rim will now swim as a wildcard competitor in both the freestyle and breaststroke competitions at the Games, which take place in London from August 29th to September 9th, thus making him the first North Korean to compete in the Paralympics.
According to Colin Gray, a spokesperson for the British Embassy in Seoul, the embassy in Pyongyang actually added the question of Olympic and Paralympic participation to its ongoing dialogue with the North Korean authorities “almost the moment the games were given to London.”
However, it was the North Korean authorities who eventually approached the embassy with Rim’s name, citing him as an athlete who would be, in Gray’s words, “particularly suitable for support.”
“The embassy was very happy to get involved,” Gray explained to Daily NK this lunchtime. “It all forms part of the embassy’s policy of critical engagement, and it can also help to raise the question of disabled people’s rights in North Korea more generally.”
The British government policy of ‘critical engagement’ with North Korea has been in place throughout the lifetime of the embassy, which opened when the two countries established diplomatic relations in December 2000. Under it, dialogue with Pyongyang is maintained even at those times when the North acts in ways which are to the detriment of regional peace and stability.
However, Grey went on to emphasize, the decision to fund Rim’s qualifying trip was also about something simpler; namely, offering “an opportunity for one particular individual to go and compete.” Not only that, he added; it was also a part of the British push to ensure that the Olympics and Paralympics are “fantastic and truly international events.”