SEOUL, Jan. 22 (Korea Bizwire) — North Korea’s seven-member delegation entered the South on January 21 as it began its two-day journey to conduct site inspections of performance venues in Seoul and Gangneung, a city near PyeongChang where the 2018 Winter Olympics will be held.
The delegation, led by North Korean pop singer Hyun Sung-wol, entered South Korean territory in the morning hours. According to the Ministry of Unification, Hyun’s group crossed the Military Demarcation Line at 8:57 a.m. and South Korea’s CIQ at 9:02 a.m.
This marks the first time the road between North and South has opened since the Kaesong Industrial Complex was closed in 2016, a punitive measure against missile tests conducted by the Kim Jong-un regime.
The North Korean delegation is slated to return home this evening after wrapping up its site inspections.
Of great interest to the media has been Hyun Sung-wol, the leader of North Korea’s Moranbong Band. Both the media and travelers at Seoul Station got a close up look at the North Korean celebrity when she disembarked from her bus to head for her train to Gangneung.
Dressed in a dark coat with fox tail muffler draped around her neck and a leather handbag hanging from her right hand, Hyun appeared neither overwhelmed nor shocked by the media frenzy before her, as she briskly strode into the building.
Hyun is the first North Korean woman to head an inter-Korea delegation since 2013, when politician Kim Song-hye was in charge of talks held at Panmunjom. This is Hyun’s first time visiting South Korea.
The reception to Hyun’s visit has been mostly positive. While many at Seoul Station were caught unawares at her arrival, many individuals expressed surprise and curiosity regarding the North Korean celebrity.
At Gangneung Station, she was greeted with a raucous welcome from South Koreans waving and smiling, snapping photos on their smartphones. One individual there said, “I came out here in the hopes that [Hyun's trip] would be a step towards a ‘Peace Olympics’”, when asked his reasons for joining the crowd.
In Gangneung, as she had been in Seoul, Hyun appeared cool and composed. Smiling from time to time, she did not respond to questions from media members present, though she reportedly did remark to her South Korean aides that “the people of Gangneung seem to be very friendly and kind”.
While Hyun’s visit has been well received, not all are happy with her presence here or what her visit to South Korea signifies.
Chanting slogans such as “Kim Jong-un’s Pyongyang Olympics”, a right-leaning activist group held a rally in the public square in front of Seoul Station, where its members burned the North Korean flag and a picture of Kim Jong-un.
National Assemblyman Hong Jun-pyo and chair of the Liberty Korea Party lambasted Hyun Song-wol’s security detail and the measures laid out for her South Korea trip on January 22, referring to the situation as “serving Hyun Song-wol”.
“People are blabbering all day about how some woman from North Korea came down and ate something and what handbag she is carrying. Even if Kim Jong-un himself were to come, this should not happen, which is why it is difficult to comprehend why [the government] is trying to suit itself to the North’s needs,” Hong stormed.
Online, many South Koreans targeted the media for devoting extensive coverage to Hyun. “There are more articles about Hyun then there were about Donald Trump when he was here,” wrote one commenter, while another said, “Is the media going to cover Hyun all day? Shouldn’t they write some articles about our athletes?”
Meanwhile, president Moon Jae-in in a meeting with presidential aides on January 22 called North Korea’s participation in the Olympics “a miracle opportunity” and urged those present not to lose sight of the chance to engage with the North once the Olympics are over.
It is believed Moon’s comments were a response to not only to the political right with misgivings over North Korea’s inclusion into the 2018 Winter Games, but also to reports that young adults in their 20s and 30s, a key demographic from which the president derives his support, were displeased with his decisions pertaining to the Olympics.
The Olympics kick off on February 9, with 22 North Korean athletes and a performing arts troupe slated to attend the Winter Games in PyeongChang.
Kevin Lee (firstname.lastname@example.org)