About the Author
Dagyum Ji and Oliver Hotham
Dagyum Ji is an NK News correspondent based in Seoul. Oliver Hotham is Managing Editor of NK News.
North Korea on Wednesday proposed sending Kim Yo Jong, Choe Hwi, and Ri Son Gwon to lead its delegation to the upcoming PyeongChang Winter Olympics in the South, Seoul’s Ministry of Unification (MOU) has said.
Kim Yo Jong is the sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, and currently serves as first vice director of the Workers’ Party of Korea’s (WPK) Propaganda and Agitation Department (PAD).
She also serves as first vice director of the Central Committee of the WPK and a non-permanent member of the party’s Politburo.
If South Korea agrees to the proposal, she will be joined by Choe Hwi, vice-chairman of the Central Committee of the WPK, chairman of the National Sports Guidance Committee, and Ri Son Gwon, chairman of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country (CPRC).
The MOU on Wednesday said North Korea’s plan to dispatch Kim Yo Jong is in keeping with other nations sending relatives of their leaders to the games and appeared to suggest the South would accept the proposal.
“We assess that North Korea’s high-level delegation is meaningful, composed of figures related to the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) and the government and the circle of the sports to correspond to the purpose of the visit celebrating the opening ceremony of the PyeongChang Winter Olympics,” the MOU said in a statement.
The unification ministry said it would prepare for the visit of the high-level delegation, while stipulating that practical issues such as its travel schedule would have to be discussed via the Panmunjom communications channel.
The announcement will likely breed some consternation in the South and the United States: Kim was sanctioned by the United States Department of the Treasure in January last year for her role in the DPRK’s “censorship policies.”
Choe Hwi, too, was designated for his links to the government of North Korea and his then-role as Vice Director of the PAD.
He was subsequently placed under a travel ban and an asset freeze by United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolution 2356, meaning Seoul would technically require an exemption from the UNSC’s 1718 committee.
UNSC resolution 1718 requires member states to submit requests for exemptions ten working days “before the date of the proposed travel, except where humanitarian considerations require a shorter period.”
Ri Son Gwon, however, is not under U.S. sanctions, and last month led a high-level North Korean delegation to the South for talks with South Korean counterparts.
One expert said Kim Yo Jong will “play the role of an influential person who can decide the activity of the delegation.”
Cheong Seong-chang, a senior research fellow at the Sejong Institute, told NK News that Kim Jong Un may also have decided to send his sister in response to U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to send daughter Ivanka Trump to the Olympic closing ceremony.
“Kim Jong Un intends to demonstrate that he has sincerity about the improvement of the inter-Korean relations,” he added.
The two Koreas last month agreed to send a “high-level” delegation from the North Korean government to the PyeongChang Winter Olympics, which are set to kick off with an opening ceremony on Friday.
They will join Kim Yong Nam, the President of the Presidium of the DPRK’s Supreme People’s Assembly, and will arrive in South Korea for the opening ceremony on Friday accompanied by 18 supporting staff. The delegation will leave on Sunday.
Reports have suggested that discussions were underway to organize a meeting between Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in, though Seoul is yet to confirm any meetings between DPRK officials and their ROK counterparts.
Also in the South is a 140-member North Korean performing squad, which arrived in the South on Tuesday, and an additional 280-member group comprised of a cheering squad, Taekwondo demonstrators, and reporters, which crossed into the ROK on Wednesday morning.
Another South Korean expert argued the composition of the high-level delegation was aimed at normalizing the North Korean government.
“The dispatch of two (Kim and Choe) has the purpose of propagating the regime as the director of the Propaganda and Agitation Department will come,” Cha du-hyeogn, a former advisor to South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, told NK News.
“Secondly, there is a clear intention to maximize the effects of easing sanctions.”
Cha said providing exemptions will weaken U.S.-ROK coordination, with Washington seeing Seoul as offering “excessively compromise” to North Korea.
Go Myong-hyun, a research fellow at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies, said Choe would likely be granted an exemption from the international travel ban.
“He will visit with diplomatic purpose, so it can be an exceptional case,” Go said, adding that he did not believe the U.S. – ROK alliance would be affected by the compromise and pointing to recent U.S. efforts to raise awareness of North Korea’s human rights situation.
“In a word, the U.S. is showing that they will take countermeasures against the North’s propaganda but they won’t take legal measures,” he said.
Featured image: file photo