North and South Korea will march under a unified Korean flag at next month’s PyeongChang Winter Olympics opening ceremony, the two Koreas announced in a joint statement on Wednesday evening.
“The South and the North will jointly march holding a flag of Korean peninsula during the opening ceremony of the PyeongChang Winter Olympic Games,” the statement reads.
The opening ceremony is scheduled to talk place on February 9 – a day after North Korea is expected to host a series of military anniversary events in Pyongyang, including a possible military parade.
They will also form a single South-North women’s ice hockey team, pending “consultation among the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the National Olympic Committee of both sides.”
In a move announced earlier in the day, the DPRK also plans to send a 230-member cheering squad to attend games of both North and South Korean athletes and to jointly cheer with South Korean fans.
A cheering party from the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan (Chongryon) – a pro-Pyongyang organization based in Tokyo – will also be guaranteed entry into South Korea.
Under the agreement, the DPRK will send a 30-member Taekwondo demonstration team, which will conduct a “demonstration performance in Pyeongchang and Seoul.”
The North Korean athletes will travel to the South on February 1, while the delegation of National Olympic Committee, cheering squad, Taekwondo demonstration team and the group of reporters will travel to the South on the 7th.
Pyongyang plans to dispatch a preliminary inspection team between January 25 and 27 “to check the stadium and local facilities.”
The timing of returning will be made at a “convenient time,” according to the agreement between the two sides.
The North Korean delegation will use a western land route that leads through the now-shuttered joint industrial complex in the DPRK border city of Kaesong to reach the South.
The two Koreas have also agreed to joint two inter-Korean events in the North.
“The South and the North will host the South-North joint cultural event at Mount Kumgang in the North,” the statement said.
They will also “carry out joint training of the South and North Korean skiers at Masikryong ski resort before the opening of the PyeongChang Winter Olympics.”
Mount Kumgang was previously the site of a jointly-run resort, which was closed in 2008 following the shooting of a South Korean tourist by a North Korean soldier.
It has also served as a site for reunions of families separated by the Korean War, the last of which was held in 2015.
Masikryong Ski Resort opened on December 31 2013, representing an early landmark development for Kim Jong Un just under a year after he came to power.
Much of the resort’s equipment was later revealed to have been imported from abroad, potentially violating UN sanctions prohibiting the transfer of “luxury goods” to North Korea.
The North will also send 150-member delegation to PyeongChang Winter Paralympics in March, which will include a delegation of the country’s Paralympic Committee, athletes, cheering and performing squad and reporters.
There were little details, as yet, about the prospect of a previously discussed “high-level” delegation of North Korean government officials visiting the South next month.
In comments to press after the release of the joint statement, South Korean vice unification minister Chun Hae-sung said the skiers would be part of the national team.
“We are planning to dispatch competent players for our skiing association to Masikryong Ski Resort, not national players,” Chun said at the news conference.
“I can clearly say that the national players which will participate in the Olympics will not take part in the joint training based on our standards.”
The joint cultural event at Mount Kumgang is “presumed” that to be held in late January or early February, he added.
“We will prepare considering the event as an eve festival of the Olympics… But we don’t think that it will happen until one or two days before the opening ceremony.”
Seoul will push ahead with the North’s participation, he insisted, without violating international or South Korean sanctions.
“The social and cultural exchanges have been promoted within the original framework of May 24 Measures, and we are pushing forward the agenda within that scope and framework.”
The announcement means February will see the two Koreas march under what is known as the Hanbandogi flag for the first time since the 2007 Asian Winter Games in Changchun, China.
The two Koreas marched under the same flag at the opening ceremony of international sports event nine times, between the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney and 2007.
The two Koreas held vice ministerial-level talks starting at 1000 KST at the Peace House on the southern half of Panmunjom to discuss the North’s participation in the upcoming games.
The talks were the third inter-Korean meeting this year, coming just two over weeks after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un expressed his willingness to open up inter-Korean dialogue during a new year speech.
The North has also proposed that its Olympic Committee delegation, athletes, cheering squad, Taekwondo demonstration team, and reporters travel to the South using an overland route on the western coast.
The news represents something of a win for South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in, who has pushed for the upcoming games to serve as a “peace” Olympics and an opportunity to improve ties between the two Koreas.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is set to convene a four-party meeting on Saturday in Lausanne, Switzerland.
Delegates of the National Olympic Committees from the two Koreas and representatives of the PyeongChang 2018 Organising Committee will meet to discuss various issues including the flags, anthems, ceremonies, and uniforms during the Olympics.
Featured image: Korean Sport & Olympic Committee
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