SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea said Friday that it would skip next month’s Beijing Olympics because of the coronavirus pandemic and actions by “hostile forces,” a largely redundant statement since the country has already been barred from the Games by the International Olympic Committee.
In September, the committee suspended North Korea through 2022 for refusing to send a team to the Tokyo Summer Games, citing the pandemic. IOC President Thomas Bach said at the time that individual athletes from North Korea who qualify to compete in Beijing could still be accepted. There is no word of that happening.
On Friday, North Korea’s state media said its Olympic Committee and Sport Ministry sent a letter to their counterparts in China to formally notify its last major ally and economic pipeline that it cannot attend the Olympics. The Games open on Feb. 4.
“We could not take part in the Olympics due to the hostile forces’ moves and the worldwide pandemic,” the letter said, according to the official Korean Central News Agency.
The KCNA dispatch did not elaborate on what the hostile forces are. But Cheong Seong-Chang, analyst at the private Sejong Institute in South Korea, said they most likely referred to the IOC, or the United States, France and Britain, which North Korea believes are behind the IOC suspension.
Despite the IOC decision, there was still hope in Seoul and elsewhere that the Games could serve as a venue for reconciliation between the rival Koreas with the support of the IOC. In the 2018 Winter Games held in Pyeongchang, South Korea, athletes from the rival countries marched together in the opening ceremony and fielded a single team in women’s ice hockey.
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Such hopes were set back last week when North Korean leader Kim Jong Un vowed to bolster his armed forces and retain his country’s strict virus restrictions, but didn’t disclose any new policies toward Washington and Seoul during a key political conference. On Wednesday, North Korea conducted what it called a hypersonic missile test in its first weapons test in two months.
“There is no reason for Kim Jong Un to take part in the Beijing Olympics, and South Korea’s push for a political declaration to end the Korean War on the occasion of the Olympics has fizzed,” Cheong said.
North Korea has maintained some of the world’s toughest restrictions to guard against the virus, including two years of border shutdowns. The country has been skipping major international sports events, including Olympic preliminary events, since the pandemic began.
The North Korean letter also accused the United States and its allies of trying to hamper the successful hosting of the Games.
“The U.S. and its vassal forces are getting more undisguised in their moves against China aimed at preventing the successful opening of the Olympics,” the letter said. “(North Korea) resolutely rejects those moves, branding them as an insult to the spirit of the international Olympic Charter and as a base act of attempting to disgrace the international image of China.”
The letter most likely refers to a diplomatic boycott of the Games, led by the United States, to protest China’s human rights record. Under the boycott, athletes will compete in the Games but no official delegations will be sent to Beijing. China has called the U.S. action an “outright political provocation.”