South Korea Breaks with U.S. on Boycott of Beijing Olympics

South Korea Breaks with U.S. on Boycott of Beijing Olympics

South Korea broke from its U.S. ally and won’t be joining the American-led diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics, citing a need for China’s help in denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in said Monday during a visit to Australia that his government was “not considering” the boycott. The country hasn’t “received any requests from any countries, including the U.S., to participate,” he said.

The diplomatic boycott announced by the Biden administration last week has driven a wedge between the U.S. and some of its allies, with Beijing warning that countries taking part would “pay a price for their wrong moves.” Nonetheless, Australia, Canada and the U.K. are joining to protest against what they say are human rights abuses by China.

France, which will host the Summer Olympics in Paris in 2024, won’t join and President Emmanuel Macron told the BBC last week that any such move would be merely symbolic. Japan, which has the U.S. as its sole military ally and relies on China as its biggest trading partner, has been non-committal. Tokyo is looking at sending a lower-level delegation, and avoiding a dispatch of cabinet ministers, the Yomiuri newspaper reported over the weekend.

China plays a crucial role on the Korean Peninsula as the largest trading partner for Seoul and the main benefactor for Pyongyang. Moon has made reconciliation with North Korea one of his key policy objectives and, if he wants to make progress before his term in office ends next year, he will likely need Beijing’s help.

“Clearly, our relations with China have some conflicting and competing aspects,” Moon told reporters in Canberra after his summit with Prime Minister Scott Morrison. But China’s “constructive efforts” are required for the denuclearization of North Korea, and for the “peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula,” Moon said at a joint news conference.

Moon used his country’s hosting of the Pyeongchang Olympics in 2018 to help revive diplomacy with North Korea and local media reports indicate he could be hoping to use the Beijing Games to push forward his plans for a declaration to end the 1950-53 Korean War. But North Korea was barred by the International Olympic Committee’s Executive Board from participating after Pyongyang pulled out of the Tokyo Olympics earlier this year, citing Covid concerns.

Talks to wind down Kim Jong Un’s nuclear arsenal have been stalled for almost two years, with Pyongyang showing little interest in returning to the table. North Korea for its part has been mostly silent on the Olympics, last mentioning them in its official media in July in a report that focused on a long-standing territorial dispute with Japan, and had no mention of its participation in any upcoming games.

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