North Korea made the decision not to attend the upcoming Winter Olympic Games in Beijing just 10 days before informing their Chinese counterparts, Daily NK has learned. 

The country’s leadership apparently struggled with the question of attendance right up to the start of the recent plenary meeting of the Central Committee.

According to a high-ranking Daily NK source on Wednesday, North Korean authorities made the final decision not to attend the Beijing games last month.

Until recently, North Korean authorities had chosen athletes and staff to send to Beijing, and had even carried out training. They ultimately decided against participation in the Olympics apparently out of concern about the rising number of COVID-19 cases in China and the international spread of the omicron variant.

Moreover, with the country stressing emergency quarantine efforts as its top priority, North Korean authorities apparently felt it would have been inappropriate to participate in an international event. Additionally, they considered the fact that the country’s athletes are unvaccinated.

That North Korean authorities nevertheless struggled with the decision to the last minute was reportedly due to the China-North Korean relationship. 

According to the source, North Korean authorities feared that a failure to participate in the Olympic Games could irritate ties with Beijing and jeopardize economic assistance.

The Ministry of External Economic Relations and foreign ministry expressed a need to attend the Olympics, pointing to potential economic and political pressure from China after the games. Nevertheless, the Central Committee finally decided not to attend, citing quarantine concerns.

The Central Committee also expressed a need for top leaders to step forward to resolve any political and economic problems with China that might arise due to Pyongyang’s decision not to attend the games.

However, because the US has already declared a “diplomatic boycott” of the Olympics in Beijing, North Korea has not considered sending high-ranking cadres or using the games as a diplomatic stage, according to the source. 

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Xi Jinping and Kim Jong Un shaking hands during their fourth summit in 2019. / Image: KCNA

That is to say, because North Korea views the US as its primary negotiating partner, Pyongyang likely decided not to send high-ranking cadres in early December, when Washington officialized its “diplomatic boycott” of the winter games.

In fact, in a letter sent to China’s Olympic Organizing Committee and state athletics body on Jan. 5, North Korean authorities said their country could not participate in the games due to “schemes by hostile forces” and the global pandemic, but they fully supported China’s efforts to hold a successful Olympic games.

North Korea’s mention in the letter that the “schemes of hostile forces” makes it difficult to participate in the games seems to suggest that there was no longer any political reason for North Korea to participate in the Olympics during the pandemic because of the US diplomatic boycott of the event. The letter’s mention of “schemes of hostile forces” does not appear to suggest that US hostility toward North Korea has grown. 

All this essentially means North Korea has, from the beginning, made different calculations than South Korea in regards to the Olympics. South Korea’s Moon Jae-in administration had hoped to use the Beijing games as an opportunity to restart the Korean Peninsula peace process, including a possible declaration ending the Korean War.

That being said, North Korean authorities appear to have a “positive view” toward making a declaration to end the Korean War, something that has long been supported by South Korea and the US.

North Korea’s leadership seems to believe that such a declaration would help resolve the country’s “international issues,” the source claimed. 

He noted, however, that Pyongyang believes it should work on the declaration not with the Moon administration, whose term is set to end this year, but the administration that comes after it.

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Seulkee Jang is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. Please direct any questions about her articles to