SEOUL, South Korea, Jan. 22 (UPI) — South Korean media on Monday showed split opinions on the government accommodating North Korea’s participation in the Pyeongchang Olympics next month.
Amid a North Korean advance team’s visit to the South to examine venues for cultural performances during the Winter Games, South Korea’s most circulated newspaper Chosun Ilbo criticized Seoul for being overly obliging toward the North when it had abruptly canceled the team’s initial trip without an explanation.
North Korean state-run media previously criticized the South for its “ambiguous attitude” toward criticism that the North’s participation in the Olympics could violate international sanctions on the regime.
Regarding the matter, “the (South Korean) government cannot even express its disappointment” in fear of rocking the boat, Chosun Ibo’s front-page headline read.
It also noted how the cultural advance team’s chief and famous singer Hyon Song-wol refused to speak to the media, with South Korean intelligence forces warding off reporters, saying “Hyon feels uncomfortable.”
The right-leaning paper said there is “criticism that if the South continues to be dragged along by the North in this manner, this could negatively impact denuclearization talks in the future.”
It quoted a North Korea expert as saying, “The North is leading our government by the nose, using its Olympic participation as an excuse, and we have become a submissive nation.”
Some analysts have expressed concern that the North has been aiming to weaken the effect of international sanctions on the regime, as well as the Seoul’s alliance with Washington.
An editorial stated that “it is becoming clear and clearer that [the North] has selected the South has its first target in efforts to break up the force of sanctions.”
“Kim Jong Un announced the North’s Olympic participation due to the fear that if the current level of sanctions are sustained, the regime could collapse,” it said.
Through an interview with a U.S. expert, the paper stressed that pressure on the North shouldn’t be weakened and that inter-Korean talks should focus on Pyongyang’s nuclear program.
Meanwhile, left-wing paper Hankyoreh emphasized the progess of inter-Korean relations.
The front-page story headline described the International Olympic Committee’s approval of the North’s participation in Pyeongchang as “an incredible gift.” The article said the decision showed that defusing tensions between the two Koreas was directly linked to the Olympic Games.
An editorial said “the curtains are being raised” on staging an “Olympics of Peace” and that “there is no need to worry about slight clashes” along the way.
“Even relatives who have been apart for a long time tend to clash when they’re in the same space,” it said.
Its coverage of the cultural advance team’s visit struck a warm tone, highlighting the local hype over Hyon Song-wol.
“Gangneung residents appear full of positivity and anticipation toward Hyun and her team’s visit and the ‘Peace Olympics,” it said, adding that, “Hundreds of residents applauded and cheered as soon as the team arrived and took out their smartphones to take photos.”
Regarding the controversy surrounding the formation of a South-North women’s ice hockey team, Hankyoreh said “the attitude of opposition politicians and conservative media outlets have gone too far” and that “South Koreans must warmly greet the female ice hockey players.”
A significant portion of the public believe a unified team would not significantly improve relations with the North and would deprive South Korean athletes of the chance to participate in the Games.
On the North’s cancellation of the cultural envoy’s initial visit, the liberal paper said in order to improve cross-border ties, Pyongyang must show humility and sincerity.