North Korea will not join the Tokyo Olympics this year due to coronavirus concerns, the country’s sports ministry said on Tuesday, dashing South Korean hopes the Games could be a catalyst to revive stalled peace talks.
It will be the first time North Korea has missed a Summer Olympics since it boycotted Seoul in 1988 amid the Cold War.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in had hoped the two countries, still technically at war after their 1950-53 conflict ended in a truce, not a peace treaty, could field a combined team in Tokyo and rebuild momentum for improved relations.
The North’s withdrawal from Tokyo is also a setback for plans, agreed at a 2018 summit between Moon and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, to pursue a joint Korean bid to host the 2032 Games.
When South Korea hosted the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in 2018, Kim sent his sister to head the country’s delegation, athletes from both sides marched under a unified flag at the opening ceremony, and fielded a combined women’s ice hockey team.