North Korea is going to the Winter Olympics in South Korea, and it is sending athletes, spectators, and even cheerleaders to the Games, according to multiple media outlets.
North and South Korea held the first high-level talks in two years Tuesday, and in the aftermath of the 11-hour meeting, the two Koreas issued a joint statement announcing North Korea’s planned participation in the Winter Olympics scheduled to be held in PyeongChang, South Korea in February, Reuters reports.
The North offered to send athletes, cheerleaders, cultural performers, and government officials, according to the Korea JoongAng Daily. The International Olympic Committee has announced that it will extend the deadline for North Korean registration. It is unclear exactly in which sports North Korea intends to compete, although North Korea does have a figure skating team which is reportedly rather impressive.
The North’s cheerleaders are mostly women in their early 20s who are chosen “on the basis of appearance” and their loyalty to the state, according to Kim Gyeong-sung, the South Korean head of the Inter-Korean Athletic Exchange Association. They tend to be students and members of propaganda teams, the BBC reports.
North Korean cheerleaders, called “an army of beauties,” have visited South Korea only three times since the Korean War ended, and the most famous North Korean cheerleader is unquestionably Ri Sol-ju, the wife of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. Ri performed in South Korea at the Asian Athletics Championships in 2005, the last time the North sent cheerleaders to the South.
The cheer squads are intended to improve North Korea’s global image as a normal state, rather than a rogue actor that violates international norms by firing off ballistic missiles and testing nuclear weapons on the regular.
Additional talks will be held to sort out the logistics for North Korean participation in the Olympics.
The South Korean government, as well as President Donald Trump, argue that talks are an opportunity for de-escalation and a peaceful resolution of disputes. Some other observers, however, are suspicious of North Korea’s intentions, given its history of deception and hostility.
To maintain peace and stability, joint military drills involving U.S. and South Korean troops have been delayed until after the Olympics.
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