US and senior North Korean officials say they have no intention of meeting each other at the Winter Olympics – even though vice-president Mike Pence and Kim Jong-un’s younger sister will be seated just metres apart at the opening ceremony.
Friday’s VIP seating arrangements are seen as a “protocol headache” for the South Korean hosts, who have been pushing for the Games in Pyeongchang to be known as a “peace Olympics”.
Instead, the opening ceremony could prove to be an awkward and frosty affair. Pence is to be accompanied by the father of Otto Warmbier, the American student who was imprisoned by North Korea and died just days after being returned to the US in a coma last year.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s younger sister, Kim Yo-jong, is blacklisted under US sanctions. She oversees the regime’s propaganda department and has been playing an increasingly prominent role in the ruling Workers’ party.
It is speculated that she might carry a message from her brother to the South as she becomes the first member of the immediate family to cross the border between the countries that are technically still at war.
In a further sign of rapprochement, a spokesman for the South Korean president, Moon Jae-in, said he would meet and have lunch with the North Korean delegates on Saturday.
But in a show of strength likely to increase tensions just a day before the Winter Olympics open in the South, the North Korean regime staged military parade in Pyongyang.
Footage posted online showed truckload after truckload of soldiers being driven away from the city centre after taking part in the parade, with cheering onlookers lining the streets, followed by tanks and other armoured vehicles.
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