North Korea suddenly canceled an upcoming joint “cultural event” with South Korea on Monday while complaining about “biased” and “insulting” South Korean media coverage.
The cancellation marks a significant setback in the highly touted “thawing” of relations with the outlaw Communist nation.
The event was to be held on February 4 at a resort on Mount Kumgang, which is located in North Korean territory. It would have included everything from artistic performances and pop music to a taekwondo demonstration.
North Korea canceled the event with a telegram that railed against “biased” and “insulting” media coverage in South Korea. South Korean Unification Ministry officials said the North Koreans were specifically angry at media coverage of the military parade it plans to hold the day before the Winter Olympics begin.
“The North, in the notice, said our press was fanning public opinion that insults the North’s sincere efforts made for the Pyeongchang Olympics and even took issue with the North’s internal celebratory event, leaving the North no choice but to cancel the agreed-upon event,” said the Unification Ministry.
South Korea’s Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyun described the North Korean military parade as “threatening” on Friday, warning that it would involve “large-scale” military forces.
The BBC also cites South Korean concerns about violating sanctions by paying airport fees to fly skiers to the Mount Kumgang resort, while the New York Times mentions South Korean media speculation that bringing fuel oil to the resort—necessary because North Korea’s electric grid is so unreliable—could be a sanctions violation.
South Korea said the North’s decision to cancel the event was “very regrettable” and urged them to reconsider.
Mixed signals about the state of North-South relations came from South Korean Defense Minister Song Young-moo on Monday. Speaking at a security forum, he said that North Korea’s constant threats to use nuclear weapons are mere “propaganda,” asserting that dictator Kim Jong-un knows it would be “suicidal” for him to use such weapons.
“The North Korean regime will probably be removed from the map if it uses developed nuclear weapons against South Korea or the United States,” Song predicted.
On the other hand, he praised the administration of South Korean President Moon Jae-in for its ongoing commitment to dialogue with North Korea and stressed that sanctions are “a means to draw North Korea into dialogue, not an aim in itself.”
Many observers both inside and beyond South Korea have been worried that the North’s sudden overtures ahead of the Winter Olympics are merely a delaying tactic, or worse, an effort to fracture the international coalition aligned against its nuclear weapons program by pretending it is willing to talk.