With this week’s announcement by North Korea that Kim Jong Un’s younger sister Kim Yo Jong would be visiting the Pyeongchang Olympics as part of the planned high-level delegation, analysts are calling the move an overt sign that the North is planning to use the occasion for propaganda purposes.
South Korea’s Unification Ministry confirmed that the North sent a message on February 7 noting that President of the Supreme People’s Assembly Kim Yong Nam would lead the delegation, and that he would be joined by “First Vice Director of the Workers’ Party Central Committee Kim Yo Jong, National Sports Commission Chairman Choe Hwi, and Chairman of the Committee for Peaceful Reunification Ri Son Gwon.”
“We believe the North has carefully selected the delegates – which include party, government, and sports department leaders – who will be attending the opening ceremony of the Olympics,” the Unification Ministry spokesperson continued. “The inclusion of Kim Jong Un’s younger sister may be considered similar to other situations where foreign heads of state send their family members along with high-level delegations.”
But experts are calling the choice to send Kim Yo Jong an obvious ploy to grab the world’s attention and promote their own agenda. With international media outlets focusing on the Olympics opening ceremony, Kim’s presence and subsequently the North Korean system will receive a great deal of free airtime.
The likelihood of intense international media focus is bolstered by the fact that Kim Yo Jong represents the first ever visit of a member of the ruling Kim family to South Korea.
“The selection of Kim Yo Jong, who carries the ‘Mt. Paektu bloodline,’ is surely symbolic,” said Lee Su Seok, a North Korea analyst at South Korea’s Institute for National Security Strategy. “The North has plans to promote their system at the Olympics.”
“In accordance with Kim Jong Un’s New Year’s address, they are attempting to use the Olympic stage to promote a new image, from which they hope to benefit going forward,” Lee added.
The decision to include Choe Hwi in the delegation is also seen as a test for South Korea, considering that under UN and US sanctions, Hwi is officially barred from traveling to UN member nations. The UN announced on February 7, however, that an exception would be granted and he would be permitted to travel to the South.
Fuel requests for the “Mangyongbong 92” ship and chartered flights appear to be part of a larger plan to drive a wedge between the US-South Korean alliance and mock international sanctions enforcement by forcing parties to grant exceptions.
“Choe Hwi is technically barred from traveling to South Korea according to UN Sanctions Resolution 2356,” said Oh Gyeong Seop of the Korea Institute for National Unification. “They chose him in order to test the resolve of South Korea towards enforcing sanctions. They have been continuously forcing the South to make concessions.”
North Korea has been trying to simultaneously ease international sanctions while putting the South in an awkward position with its allies in the international community.
South Korea will need to maintain close discussions with its allies in order to avoid a North Korean success in this matter, as the North will surely press forward with plans to gain further sanctions exceptions and promote the arrival of their high-level delegation.
Meanwhile, North and South Korean officials are utilizing working-level talks at Panmunjom to discuss the details and daily schedules of the high-level delegation’s visit, with South Korea promising a “problem-free” stay for their Northern counterparts.