Seoul — A 140-member North Korean orchestra will perform in South Korea during February’s Winter Olympics, the two sides announced on Monday, amid a tentative rapprochement after months of tension over Pyongyang’s nuclear programme. The North agreed last week to send athletes, officials and others to the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.
The two sides agreed an artistic troupe would be part of the delegation, and four officials from each country met on Monday at the border truce village of Panmunjom to thrash out details of that visit.
The 140 members of the Samjiyon Orchestra will stage concerts in the capital Seoul and the eastern city of Gangneung close to Pyeongchang which is hosting the Games, said a joint statement after the talks.
"The South will ensure the safety and convenience of the North’s performing squad to the utmost extent," it said.
If they go ahead, the concerts will be the first time a North Korean artistic troupe has performed in the capitalist South since 2002, during a previous rare period of rapprochement.
The North’s then leader Kim Jong-il sent dozens of state singers, dancers and musicians to Seoul to perform at a political event when Kim Dae-jung was president of South Korea.
The North’s delegates at Monday’s meeting included Hyon Song-Wol, the leader of Pyongyang’s famed all-female Moranbong music band, raising expectations the band would perform in the South.
The South’s delegates to Monday’s talks included officials from the state-run Korean Symphony Orchestra, raising the prospect of groups from both sides performing together.
The two nations also agreed on Monday to hold talks at Panmunjom on Wednesday on logistics and details for the visit by the North’s athletes.
The Koreas are set to hold talks with the International Olympics Committee in Lausanne in Switzerland on Saturday over the number of the North’s athletes. South Korea has proposed a joint march for the opening ceremony and a unified women’s ice hockey team, reports quoted a minister as saying last week.
The South Korean government and Olympic organisers have been keen for Pyongyang — which boycotted the 1988 Summer Games in Seoul — to take part in what they have been promoting as a "peace Olympics". The North remained silent on the offer until Kim Jong-un said in his New Year’s speech it could participate, a move seen as aimed at easing military tension with the US.
Tension has been high as the North staged a flurry of nuclear and missile tests since 2017 and Kim traded threats of war and personal attacks with US President Donald Trump.
Kim’s declaration triggered a rapid series of moves, while Seoul touted talks last week — the first inter-Korea meeting for two years — as a potential first step to bringing the North into negotiations over its nuclear arsenal. South Korean President Moon Jae-in said last week he was willing to have a summit with Kim", but that "certain outcomes must be guaranteed".
In a setback for such hopes, Pyongyang slammed Moon on Sunday as "ignorant and unreasonable" for demanding preconditions for a summit.