(CNN)North and South Korea are discussing fielding a joint ice hockey team in next month’s Winter Olympics, a potential first for the two countries, which have never competed under one flag at the Games.
Baik Tae-hyun, a spokesman for South Korea’s Unification Ministry, said Monday the two sides were in the process of coordinating the creation of an inter-Korean women’s ice hockey team made-up of players from both nations.
Baik’s comments came as officials from Seoul and Pyongyang sat down for discussions Monday, the second such meeting in less than seven days.
The two sides, meeting at the demilitarized zone (DMZ) between North and South Korea, are expected to hammer out details on how the secluded communist nation can take part in the Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, though no exact agenda has been disclosed. South Korea said it agreed to North Korea’s proposal to hold high-level talks on Wednesday.
Here are the latest developments:
- Hyon Song Wol from Moranbong, a North Korean all-female band, attended Monday’s talks
- Baik told reporters North Korean negotiators brought up the case of North Korean restaurant workers who defected to the South nearly two years ago
- North Korean state media slammed the South Korean President’s “servile attitude” toward President Donald Trump…
- …But praised suspension of joint military maneuvers as part of “positive efforts for peace”
Last week, officials from North and South Korea met face-to-face for the first time in two years, with the North agreeing to send a delegation to the Games — the most significant thaw in relations between the neighboring states in years.
To date, only two North Korean figure skaters have qualified for the Games. However, the country’s National Olympic Committee did not meet an October 30 deadline to accept their spot.
Baik said that both Koreas and the IOC would finalize the size of the North Korean delegation and the number of athletes competing at a meeting Saturday.
In a statement last week, the IOC reiterated that it remains open to the North’s participation.
According to Japanese news agency Kyodo, North Korea’s representative to the IOC, Chang Ung, told reporters at Beijing’s international airport over the weekend that Seoul had proposed fielding a joint female hockey team. He did not disclose whether North Korea supported the idea.
Choi Moon-soon, the governor of Gangwon Province, where the Olympics are being hosted, discussed the idea of a joint hockey team in an interview with CNN after the first round of talks on Tuesday.
The two Koreas have competed under separate flags at major international multi-discipline sporting events since the end of World War II, but sports have been used by both sides as a means of reconciliation.
The two countries marched under the same flag at the opening ceremony of the Sydney Games in 2000 and South Korean spectators are known to support their northern compatriots. Last year, the North Korean women’s ice hockey team was cheered on by crowds when they competed in South Korea.
Last week’s meetings, held on Tuesday at the border village of Panmunjom, lasted for nearly an entire working day and ended with a handful notable developments. The most significant was the North’s decision to send a delegation of athletes, a cheering squad, an art troupe, a visitors’ group, a Taekwondo demonstration team and a press corps to the Games next month.
South Korea also said a military-to-military hotline was opened on the western Korean Peninsula, though North Korea rejected the claim that the hotline was opened as the result of the talks, and Pyongyang agreed to hold talks to ease military tensions.
Last week’s dialogue was lauded by most of the international community, with the United States, China, Russia and Japan all issuing statements praising the dialogue.
After a year of saber rattling and weapons testing, analysts say the decision by Washington and Seoul to postpone annual military exercises and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s perceived offer of an olive branch provided fertile ground for diplomacy.
Many see the talks as a good first step, as they allow the two sides to establish some sort of rapport, but believe Olympic participation itself is mostly symbolic.
North Korea’s still refuses to put its nuclear weapons on the table, and previous rounds of diplomacy have failed to bring about either denuclearization or a permanent peace treaty to formally end the Korean War (hostilities ended with a truce in 1953).
Baik, the Unification Ministry spokesman, said Monday that North Korean negotiators brought up the case of 13 North Koreans working abroad who defected to the South in 2016.
Pyongyang contends they were abducted. Shortly after the defection, CNN interviewed several of their former colleagues in the North Korean capital. They said their compatriots were tricked by the restaurant owner, but it’s unclear if they were speaking under duress. Seoul contends the 13 defectors voluntarily decided to leave.
No decision on their status was made at last week’s meeting, according to Baik.
“The North was just addressing their position on the issue to us,” he said. “There was no conflict or anything on that.”
North Korea: Moon’s ‘servile attitude’ toward Trump
Ahead of Monday’s talks, a piece in North Korea’s state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) accused South Korea of using the Olympic Games talks to pave the way to negotiations on North Korea’s weapons programs.
“This fact that South Korea is trying so hard to achieve our participation of the Winter games clearly reveals their wicked intent of leading us into giving up nuclear weapons,” KCNA said. “South Korea should carefully consider how their ill-mannered behaviors can bring shameful results.”
The article did promote the talks themselves as a positive development when it comes to inter-Korean relations. However, it castigated South Korean President Moon Jae-in for saying US President Donald Trump’s hawkish stance on Pyongyang helped push both sides to negotiations.
“It is unbearable to look at South Korea’s servile attitude of thanking Trump as if the results of inter-Korean talks happened because of their international sanctions and pressures,” said the report. “We will work hard to improve North-South relationship but we will not sit by and tolerate foul actions that pour cold water on our effort.”
However, in a piece published Monday, the news agency was more positive, saying the suspension of delaying South Korea-US joint military maneuvers was “attributable to our bold measure for north-south dialogue and positive efforts for peace on the Peninsula and the strong demands of the public at home and abroad.”