Pyongyang calls on Koreans to work towards unification

North Korean statement comes as South gears up for winter Olympics

Members of the North Korean women’s ice hockey team arrive at South Korea’s national training centre in Jincheon on Thursday. They will be part of a unified Korean squad. Photograph: Song Kyung-Seok/AFP/Getty Images

Members of the North Korean women’s ice hockey team arrive at South Korea’s national training centre in Jincheon on Thursday. They will be part of a unified Korean squad. Photograph: Song Kyung-Seok/AFP/Getty Images

 

As the North Korean women’s ice hockey team arrived in the South to prepare for next month’s winter Olympics, Pyongyang has issued a rousing call to all Koreans at home and abroad to achieve unification.

The KCNA news agency ran a statement saying “ . . . that the whole nation should turn out in the nationwide struggle to make a breakthrough for independent reunification by its concerted efforts this year.”

The announcement was issued after a joint meeting of government, political parties and organisations to discuss leader Kim Jong-un’s New Year address.

It was this speech in which Mr Kim opened up the possibility of talks that have since led to North Korea agreeing to take part in the Pyeongchang winter games next month, and march under a unified flag at the opening ceremony.

“All members of the nation should fulfil their duty and role for national reconciliation and reunification,” the statement said.

The statement again took aim at joint US-South Korean military drills, labelling the US “outside forces”. Pyongyang regularly criticises the exercises, which it sees as preparation for invasion aimed at ensuring regime change in the North.

“The South Korean authorities should stop the war games with the US forever and refrain from introducing the US nuclear strategic assets and aggression forces to South Korea, ” it said.

Scepticism

The unification call is likely to be treated with extreme scepticism in the South, where there is much ambivalence about the growing closeness between the two countries, which were divided at the end of the Korean War in 1953 and which have never signed a peace treaty with each other.

This ambivalence was reflected in the reaction of the South Korean women’s team coach Sarah Murray, as 12 North Korean hockey players arrived at the national training centre in Jincheon, 90km south of Seoul. They will be part of a unified Korean squad.

The American said it was exciting to be taking part in such a historic event but she was disappointed that she could not play her full squad.

“It’s a tough situation to have our team be used for political reasons, but it’s something that’s bigger than ourselves right now,” she told the Yonhap news agency. “We’re dealing with it the best we can. We know we have no control. Why stress about it? Why worry about it? It’s negative energy.”

Many in South Korea feel the North is trying to steal the spotlight after months of tension ratcheted up by its nuclear and missile tests, which have seen the introduction of punishing international sanctions.

South Korean president Moon Jae-in has rejected criticism, saying the games will defuse tensions and perhaps open the way to more dialogue.

This view was echoed by former United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki-moon.

“There’s actually a very tiny window open,” Mr Ban told a gathering in Seoul.

The US this week announced new sanctions aimed at stopping the North’s nuclear weapons development and urged China and Russia to expel any North Koreans raising funds for the programmes.