- North Korea said on Tuesday it would skip this year’s Olympics, citing concerns about COVID-19.
- Japan, the host country, had just extended unilateral sanctions against North Korea for two years.
- The news dampens optimism that the games could have led to talks between the two Koreas and the United States.
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North Korea says it will skip the Tokyo Olympics to protect its athletes from COVID-19, an announcement that coincided with Japan’s extension of its unilateral sanctions against North Korea.
North Korea’s sports ministry said in a statement to The Washington Post: “The National Olympic Committee of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea discussed and decided not to participate in the 32 Olympic Games to protect athletes from the global health crisis. for the vicious virus pandemic.. “
Nikkei Asia reported that this withdrawal marked the first time that North Korea skipped the Olympics since 1988, when the North withdrew because the games were taking place in South Korea.
North Korean state media reportedly reported that the withdrawal decision was made on March 25, although the announcement came just as Japan said it would extend unilateral sanctions against North Korea for two more years.
Those sanctions are not new. Tokyo imposed limited sanctions against North Korea in 2006, banning bilateral trade and flights between North Korea and Japan and preventing North Korean-registered ships from entering Japanese waters or docking at Japanese ports.
Wider sanctions, which took effect in 2009, banned exports to North Korea.
According to reports from The Japan Times, Japan has spent the past few months considering extending its unilateral sanctions.
The sanctions were due to expire on April 13, but Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato hinted last week that Japan was seeking to extend sanctions in response to North Korea’s ballistic missile tests on March 25.
According to a report by The Japan Times, a source within the Japanese government said the extension was seen as a way to pressure Pyongyang, with the aim of not only denuclearizing but holding North Korea responsible for the kidnapping of some 17 Japanese citizens. in the 1970s and 1980s.
The extension of Japan’s sanctions was formalized on Tuesday.
“Since Prime Minister Koizumi’s last visit to North Korea in 2004, bad relations between the two countries have persisted,” Atsuhito Isozaki, an associate professor at Keio University, told Japanese news outlet NK News. “It has been Tokyo’s position that it will extend the sanctions as long as there is no change in Pyongyang’s attitude.”
North Korea’s withdrawal from the Tokyo Games may have dashed South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s hopes that the Olympics would help pave the way for new talks between the two Koreas and broader multilateral talks with Japan and the United States. .