Expensive guests: S. Korea will foot $2.6M bill for North’s visit
SEOUL, South Korea – South Korea agreed Wednesday to pay $2.6 million for North Korea’s participation in the Olympics, saying the money was well spent as a way to ease tensions and “open the door for peace on the Korean Peninsula.”
The Unification Ministry said the funds will come from the government budget for inter-Korean cooperation and will cover housing and food for the cheering squad, orchestra, taekwondo athletes, journalists and other members of the more than 400-strong delegation.
The cost for hosting Kim Yo Jong – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s sister – and other high-level delegates was paid separately from the government budget because their visit was seen as part of inter-Korean talks, ministry spokesman Baik Tae-hyun said during a press briefing.
The International Olympic Committee has agreed to pay for the 22 North Korean athletes who were competing in the Feb. 9-25 Winter Games.
President Moon Jae-in invited the North to join the Olympics in hopes it would tamp down security concerns and provide an opportunity for dialogue after months of saber rattling as the communist state traded threats with the United States over its nuclear weapons program.
The sight of athletes from both countries marching together in the opening ceremony drew thunderous applause in the stadium, and North Korean artists charmed many with their performances and synchronized cheers in several appearances in Seoul and the cities hosting the games.
But the government has had to fight critics and protesters who argued that it was giving the communist state a propaganda victory despite its military threats and record of human rights abuses.
South Korea and organizers also have had to perform diplomatic acrobatics of their own to accommodate the visitors without violating economic sanctions aimed at punishing the North for its nuclear and missile development in defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions.
Concerns ranged from hockey sticks to smartphones and uniforms made by American companies. The IOC, for example, agreed to provide Samsung smartphones to all athletes but asked the North Koreans not to take theirs home with them.
The South and North Exchange and Cooperation Promotion Council on Wednesday approved the decision to pay for the artists and others who performed in cultural events on the sidelines of the Winter Games.
Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon told the council it provided an opportunity for the usually isolated North to communicate with the international community. He stressed that Seoul is keeping U.N. sanctions and other international restrictions in mind, according to the Yonhap News Agency.
"The North Korean delegation's participation in various forms is … becoming an important chance for harmony that improves the inter-Korean relationship and opens the door for peace on the Korean Peninsula," Cho was quoted as saying.
The ministry spokesman said that $2.6 million was allocated for food and lodging, stadium admission fees and transportation, but the actual sum would be calculated after the North Koreans return home.
He also said the council would decide later whether to bankroll the North’s participation in the March 8-18 Paralympics, which are also being held in the northeastern alpine area.
Moon enjoyed a diplomatic victory during the games after Kim Yo Jong delivered an invitation from her brother to hold the first inter-Korean summit in more than a decade in Pyongyang. Moon didn’t immediately accept, saying the conditions need to be right and the North needs to engage with the U.S. as well.
The North Korean leader later expressed satisfaction with the visit and said it’s important to continue dialogue. The U.S. administration also has signaled it may be willing to talk to the North despite the lack of engagement between visiting Vice President Mike Pence and the North Korean delegation at the opening ceremony.
Stars and Stripes reporter Yoo Kyong Chang contributed to this report.