Seoul: North and South Korea began talks on Monday on performances by Pyongyang’s state artistic troupes at next month’s Winter Olympics in the South, after the North agreed to attend the Games.
Pyongyang agreed last week to send athletes, high-level officials and others to the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, easing months of high tensions over its weapons programmes.
The two sides agreed an art troupe would be part of the delegation. Four officials from each country started a working-level meeting to thrash out details on the northern side of the border village of Panmunjom soon after 10am, Seoul’s unification ministry said.
The North’s delegates include Kwon Hyok-Bong, a senior culture ministry official, as well as Hyon Song-Wol, the leader of the North’s famed all-female Moranbong music band.
The 10-strong band, established in 2012 with members supposedly chosen by leader Kim Jong-un, is known for its Western-style, synthesiser-driven music and sophisticated fashion style rare in the isolated nation, although most of their songs praise the regime.
Their numbers include the jaunty “Mother’s Birthday”, about the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea, and the more soulful “We Call Him Father”, an ode to leader Kim Jong-un.
Such lyrics could fall foul of the South’s National Security Act, which bans praise for the North.
The band once cancelled a planned performance in Beijing in 2015 and returned home after Chinese officials took issue with propaganda images on stage featuring Pyongyang’s long-range missiles.
Seoul should negotiate carefully to avoid the embarrassment of having the North’s propaganda being promoted at the Olympics, said Cheong Seong-Chang, analyst at the Sejong Institute think tank.
“If the Moranbong band members, all formally military officers, come to the South in military uniforms, it could cause discomfort among many South Koreans,” Cheong said.
“And it would stir an even bigger controversy if any praise of Kim Jong-un or missile launches are featured on the stage during their performance,” he said in a statement.
The South’s delegates include senior officials from the state-run Korean Symphony Orchestra, raising the prospect of groups from both sides of the border Demilitarised Zone performing together — another top North Korean act is the State Merited Chorus, a military choir.
The North also on Monday proposed holding talks at Panmunjom on Wednesday on logistics and details for the visit by the North’s athletes.
The two Koreas are set to hold talks with the International Olympic Committee in Lausanne, Switzerland, on Saturday over the number of the North’s athletes.
South Korea has proposed a joint march for the opening ceremony and a unified women’s ice hockey team, reports quoted a minister as saying last week.
‘Corn without teeth’
The South Korean government and Olympic organisers have been keen for Pyongyang — which boycotted the 1988 Summer Games in Seoul — to take part in what they have been promoting as a “peace Olympics”.
The North remained silent on the offer until Kim said in his New Year’s speech that it could participate, a move seen as aimed at easing military tensions with the US.
Tension has been high as the North staged a flurry of nuclear and missile tests since last year and Kim traded threats of war and personal attacks with US President Donald Trump.
Kim’s declaration triggered an apparent rapprochement and a rapid series of moves, while Seoul touted last week’s talks — the first inter-Korea meeting in two years — as a potential first step to bring the North into negotiations over its nuclear arsenal.
South Korean President Moon Jae-In, who advocates dialogue with the North but remains critical of Pyongyang’s weapons drive, said last week he was willing to have a summit with Kim “under the right conditions”, but added that “certain outcomes must be guaranteed”.
In a setback for such hopes, Pyongyang on Sunday slammed Moon as “ignorant and unreasonable” for demanding preconditions — possibly a step towards denuclearisation — for a summit.
“The South Korean chief executive should not be dreaming,” the state-run KCNA news agency said in an editorial, accusing Moon of “brown-nosing” the United States.
KCNA added that the North could still change its mind about taking part in the Olympics. “They should know that train and bus carrying our delegation to the Olympics are still in Pyongyang,” it said.
A spokesman for Seoul’s unification ministry played down the editorial, attributing it to “internal reasons and circumstances”.
But later on Monday, a senior North Korean journalist warned the South’s media against criticising Pyongyang
“Tongue may bring calamity and miswritten pen may become a sword beheading oneself,” Kim Chol Guk said in an essay published by KCNA.
“The South Korean authorities may find the wedding ceremony turning into a mourning ceremony if they fail to hold tight control of media and of their own tongue.”