North Korea informed South Korea on February 4 that a high-level delegation led by Kim Yong-nam, the president of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly, would visit South Korea for three days starting February 9, the opening day of the PyeongChang Winter Olympics. The delegation will include North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s younger sister Kim Yo-jong, who is the first vice director of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party, Choe Hwi, chairman of the National Sports Guidance Committee, and Ri Son-gwon, head of the North’s state agency in charge of inter-Korean affairs. The presidential office in Seoul welcomed Kim Yong-nam’s upcoming visit, saying that it will be the first time for him to travel to South Korea and the North’s constitutional head of state is the highest-ever ranking North Korean official to visit the South. The presidential office also said that the top official’s South Korea visit reflects North Korea’s sincere attitude and wish for an improvement in inter-Korean relations and the successful hosting of the Olympics. Here is Professor Shin Beom-cheol at the Korea National Diplomatic Academy.

North Korea’s decision to send Kim Yong-nam shows that the North is open to dialogue, which is welcomed by the South Korean government. It is uncertain whether the North Korean official will meet with leaders of other nations during his stay in South Korea. But Kim’s visit shows that the North leaves that possibility open.

Under North Korea’s constitution, the Supreme People’s Assembly is defined as the body of highest political power. The president of the assembly represents the state and receives credentials from foreign countries’ diplomatic envoys. It means Kim Yong-nam is North Korea’s ceremonial head of state. Kim led his nation’s delegation to the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics and the 2014 Sochi Winter Games to engage in summit diplomacy. He also participated in two previous inter-Korean summits in Pyongyang. As he served as foreign affairs minister from 1983 to 1998, he is considered a foreign policy expert who is well versed in diplomatic protocol.

Born in 1928, the 90-year-old official represents North Korea diplomatically. After Kim studied in Moscow in the 1950s, he was mostly in charge of diplomatic affairs in the Workers’ Party or the government. Since the start of the Kim Jong-un regime, he has served as the president of the Supreme People’s Assembly to carry out diplomatic activities, like greeting visiting foreign envoys. He met with former South Korean presidents Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun in Pyongyang in 2000 and 2007. In brief, he has represented North Korea as far as foreign relations and inter-Korean ties are concerned.

North Korea has decided to send its ceremonial leader to the PyeongChang Olympics in an apparent bid to demonstrate to the entire world that the nation is committed to peaceful diplomacy as a normal state. Also, the North seems to be attempting to actively use the Winter Games as a diplomatic stage, since 26 leaders from 21 nations are scheduled to visit South Korea for the Olympics.

I think North Korea has two purposes. First, it wants to improve unfavorable external conditions by accepting the South Korean government’s proposal to take part in the Olympics. Secondly, the North wants to send a message that it can get along with neighboring countries even though it possesses nuclear weapons. As we know, North Korea never gives concessions when it comes to the nuclear issue and sticks to its nuclear weapons development. Being well aware of these two purposes, Seoul is seeking to cope with the situation properly and to induce North Korea to change in the mid and long term.

The high-level North Korean delegation will stay in South Korea from Friday to Sunday. During the period, Kim Young-nam and South Korean President Moon Jae-in could meet at the reception or the opening ceremony on Friday, a match of an inter-Korean unified women’s ice hockey team on Saturday or a performance of North Korea’s art troupe on Sunday. Attention turns to what message the North Korean official will deliver to the South Korean president, if the two actually meet.

I’m sure the South Korean president will meet the North Korean official. But the meeting will not be called a summit because it is not attended by North Korea’s top leader Kim Jong-un. President Moon will spend some time meeting with Kim Yong-nam to deliver his messages, including the one about the overall inter-Korean relations. The North Korean official, for his part, will wish for the successful hosting of the PyeongChang Olympics and better inter-Korean ties, as indicated in Kim Jong-un’s New Year’s speech. In the case of a visit by a No.2 man, he generally delivers a verbal message, rather than a letter. Kim Yong-nam will likely convey the North Korean leader’s message verbally.

Eyes are also on the travel schedule of Kim Yong-nam and U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, as the international community is paying close attention to the possibility of North Korea-U.S. dialogue during the PyeongChang Games. Kim will arrive in South Korea on Friday and return home on Sunday, while Pence will end his three-day visit on Saturday. So their stay in South Korea will coincide for about a day and a half. Analysts are skeptical about the possibility of their meeting during the short period. In a speech on February 2, Pence said that he will go to PyeongChang to deliver the simple and clear message that the era of “strategic patience” is over. He also plans to attend the opening ceremony of the Olympics with the parents of the late Otto Warmbier, the American student who was detained in North Korea for more than a year and died last June after he was released in a coma. Apparently, the U.S. will strengthen its pressure on North Korea by highlighting the North Korean human rights issue. Moreover, the U.S. is saying it has no plan to meet North Korean officials. The prospects for North Korea-U.S. talks are murky.

It is unlikely that Pence will meet with Kim in South Korea. In light of domestic politics, it is difficult for the U.S. to meet North Korea if the North continues to show off its nuclear force. Until mid-January, the U.S. had expressed its support for the South Korean government’s efforts to hold talks with North Korea. President Moon and U.S. President Donald Trump shared the view that it would be necessary to use the dialogue momentum properly during their telephone conversation early last month. But concerns have been rising within the U.S. since North Korea changed its military foundation day to February 8. The U.S. remains unchanged in its principle of denuclearization of North Korea.

Considering the current relations between North Korea and the U.S., the two sides are unlikely to hold any meaningful dialogue. Even if they may meet, it might be an accidental encounter. But if high officials from the North and the U.S. happen to exchange greetings amid fierce confrontation between the two countries, the scene itself could be significant. While it is uncertain what factor may lead to North Korea-U.S. talks, South Korea needs to come up with ways to use the rare dialogue momentum strategically.

It is highly important for the Seoul government to arrange dialogue between North Korea and the U.S. The government could at least arrange a tea time for the two officials during their stay in South Korea. At present, Seoul’s role is to bring North Korea and the U.S. together and encourage them to hold dialogue. For that purpose, it is necessary to take some measures aimed at helping the two sides trust each other. The South Korean government should make contact with both North Korea and the U.S. actively and explain the need for their talks for the sake of regional peace.

Only one day before the opening of the 2018 Winter Olympics, international eyes are now on PyeongChang. The Olympics will hopefully contribute to easing tension surrounding the Korean Peninsula and provide fresh momentum for dialogue between North Korea and the U.S.

[Interview] Defector Designs Second Life as Sports Marketing Specialist

North Korean defector Kim Seung-gi majors in sports marketing, and he is busy preparing for his thesis to be published in a journal.

My thesis is about top boxers who have represented South Korea. A previous study points out the fact that South Korean boxers tend to perform rather poorly in international competitions overseas, including the Olympics. As a follow-up study, I have carried out research on the current situation of the boxers of the national team and ways to improve it. I’m planning on publishing the research in a journal.

Mr. Kim is enrolled in a doctoral program here in South Korea now, but in North Korea, he belonged to the national youth boxing team.

While playing soccer in elementary school in North Korea, I was so into sports. Fortunately, I was admitted to a prestigious sports school, where I started boxing. I won ten matches by TKO out of 11 games to win the youth championship. As the first teenage boxer to represent the country, I was the member of the national team for quite a long time. I came in first for four consecutive years at a nationwide sports festival. Just like in other countries, the national team selected competent players as they would compete at the Olympic Games. As a member of the national boxing team, I felt very proud and received various great benefits, which were not given to general citizens.

Kim came to South Korea in 2005 when he was in his mid-20s. In the initial stage of resettlement, he worked at a company to earn money. But eight years ago, he began to study again to use his athletic experience. He was confident and had a great ambition. But it turned out his school life was not easy. He was even unfamiliar with the word “boxing” as he used a different word in North Korea. Even for Kim, who started boxing in his early days, it felt like boxing was a whole new sport due to different boxing terms.

I had spent a long time boxing, but I couldn’t understand boxing terms in South Korea at all. So I asked my friends and classmates questions and read a lot of boxing books. If I still didn’t understand something, I simply memorized it. I liked and still like to watch boxing matches. Whenever I had free time, I went to boxing competitions nationwide. There, I learned boxing terms used by fans rooting for players.

While learning the unfamiliar terms, Kim showed an interest in every boxing-related area. As a physical education majoring student, he completed a course in teaching. He took time out of his busy schedule to study in order to obtain certificates. As a result, he was able to get about ten certificates.

To operate a gym, you should earn a certificate to be a daily sports trainer. You should also have a certificate to work as a judge at competitions. Speaking of boxing, it is classified into “dans,” like in taekwondo. A “dan” refers to a level in martial arts. From the 5th dan, it is usually referred to as the high level for national team athletes. I’m a 6th dan holder. I also have a chiropractic therapy certificate. These days, sports trainers for elderly people are emerging as a new profession in line with the changing sports trend in the fast-aging society. I have this certificate as well. I hope to continue to mount new challenges until I can do that. In doing so, I can feel a sense of achievement. I also need various certificates if I want to become a trainer. That’s why I keep taking on new challenges.

Currently, Kim serves as a judge at a local boxing association and a boxing competition and also as a master at the World Police Martial Arts Federation. At the same time, he is devoted to his studies as well. Let’s hear from Chung Tae-rin (정태린), who is also enrolled in a doctoral program.

He is an exemplary doctoral student. There’s no need to say any more. After undergoing drastic changes in the course of escaping from North Korea and defecting to the South, he has resettled successfully by developing his specialty. I think I can learn a lot from his new challenge. He is already a great boxing trainer, but he continues to study for self-development. In this sense, I believe he will achieve great success as a trainer. He has the so-called “hungry spirit,” or a strong drive to succeed, which is considered to be important in Korean boxing. I think he will serve as a catalyst to revive Korean boxing in the 21st century.

He was a member of North Korea’s national youth boxing team but escaped from his home country. Now, he is enjoying his second life as a sports marketing specialist in South Korea, while engaging in activities in various sports areas. In the process, he faced so many difficulties that he even felt like giving up. But he has been able to move on, on the back of the philosophy of “ottogi,” which means a roly-poly toy that bounces back no matter what.

As in every sport, boxing is a battle with oneself. In boxing, the athlete should punch and try and hurt his opponent. It is a very intense and strenuous sport. When you play a sport or study—whatever you do, it is difficult to recover your power or performance once you are frustrated. That’s why I try not to feel frustrated. You can accomplish your goal only when you are not frustrated. We shouldn’t stay down but bounce back like a roly-poly toy. Of course, everyone experiences twists and turns in their lives. There are sunny days and rainy days, happy days and sad days. But when you feel down or face difficulties, you still shouldn’t give up, thinking of your happy days, and make efforts to realize your dream.

South and North Korea have fielded a joint team in women’s ice hockey for the PyeongChang Winter Games. In the same way, here’s hoping that the two Koreas will form a single team in boxing as well to participate in international competitions.