By Jihye Lee
North Korea canceled a joint cultural performance with South Korea at a mountain resort north of the border, blaming the media in Seoul for “defaming” its position on next month’s Winter Olympics.
South Korea called the decision to scrap the Feb. 4 event at Mount Kumgang “regretful,” according to a statement issued by its Unification Ministry. The statement said North Korea also cited criticism of an “internal celebration event,” which appeared to be a reference to speculation that it will hold a large-scale military parade in Pyongyang on the eve of the Games.
The decision highlights the unpredictability of the North Korean regime, which has so far this year refrained from provocations such as missile tests. The U.S. and Japan are skeptical that North Korea’s participation in the Olympics will lead to a lasting peace, as Kim Jong Un’s regime has objected to any talks that could lead to denuclearization.
The move doesn’t affect plans for Pyongyang to send athletes to the Games starting Feb. 9, or for an art troupe to perform concerts in the South. For the cultural performance at the mountain resort, South Korea planned to send K-pop bands to perform alongside North Korean artists.
North Korea earlier this month designated Feb. 8, 1948, as the foundation date of the Korean People’s Army, and plans to “significantly mark” the 70th anniversary next month, according to the state-run Korean Central News Agency. South Korea’s Defense Ministry has interpreted this to mean North Korea was planning a military parade.
North Korea’s army has scaled back annual winter military exercises this year, the Wall Street Journal reported Monday, citing unidentified U.S. officials familiar with intelligence reports. North Korean maneuvers, which typically run from December through March, were slow in getting started and are less extensive than usual, the people said.
The U.S. and South Korea will conduct joint military drills as “normal” after the Winter Olympics and Paralympics in Pyeongchang end in March, Defense Ministry spokeswoman Choi Hyunsoo said last week. The exercises are a major source of tensions on the peninsula, with North Korea using them to justify its push to develop nuclear weapons capable of striking the U.S. mainland.
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