Deteriorating economy may be behind decision

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
North Korean flags

SEOUL — North Korea had regarded the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics as an opportunity to enhance its national prestige. The financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic might lie behind Pyongyang’s decision to skip the Games.

North Korea has claimed that the country is free from the coronavirus. However, it is believed the virus is prevalent as Pyongyang has asked international organizations for vaccines.

For more than a year, North Korea has effectively closed its borders with China and Russia, on which Pyongyang depends for more than 90% of its trade. The measure, which was implemented to prevent the spread of the virus, has severely weakened its economy.

Flooding last year compounded problems as the food situation deteriorated.

Medical supplies are also becoming scarce. In a message posted on Facebook by the Russian Embassy in North Korea on Thursday, embassy staff claimed that foreigners are fleeing Pyongyang.

The administration of South Korean President Moon Jae-in wanted the Games to set the stage for reconciliation between Seoul and Pyongyang. North Korea’s decision to skip the event pours cold water on such ambitions.

Although North Korea has never shown willingness to engage in dialogue with the South, the Moon administration had been aiming to hold a five-nation summit among South Korea, Japan, the United States, China and North Korea after the Olympics, according to a South Korean government official.

Moon wants to improve South and North Korean relations by the end of his term in office in May next year. Pyongyang’s pullout from the Games leaves his prospects in tatters.