North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s sister has arrived in South Korea on a three-day visit, becoming the first member of her family to visit the rival South in more than 60 years amid a rapprochement.
As part of a high-level delegation attending the opening ceremony of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in South Korea, Kim Yo-jong arrived on her brother’s private jet in the country on Friday.
She was received by a group of South Korean officials, including Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon, at a meeting room at the Incheon International Airport.
Kim Yo-jong, 30, and her country’s 90-year-old nominal head of state, Kim Yong Nam, who has also traveled to South, are due to meet with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who sees the Winter Olympics as an opportunity to revive diplomatic ties with Pyongyang. They will meet in a luncheon at Seoul’s presidential palace on Saturday.
South Korean media have been speculating about whether the North’s leader will send a personal message to Moon through his sister, who is believed to be one of Kim’s closest confidantes.
North and South Koreas have been separated by a heavily-militarized border since the three-year Korean War came to an end in 1953.
Since he came to power in May last year, Moon has been pushing for greater dialog between the two countries. His efforts received a boost when Kim Jong-un called for improved ties in his New Year’s Day speech. Kim also expressed willingness to send athletes to the Pyeongchang Games.
Nearly 500 people, including officials, athletes, and artists and also a 230-member state-trained cheering group have been sent to Pyeongchang.
Along with the North Korean delegation that arrived on Friday, a delegation of US officials led by Vice President Mike Pence will also attend the Olympic Games opening ceremony on Friday.
At the ceremony, Kim’s sister, who was blacklisted by the US last year, will be seated just meters away from Pence.
Pence has suggested he would be open to meeting with North Korean officials while he is in South Korea.
North Korea has dismissed his tacit call for a meeting, but figures from the two countries remain likely to run into one another at the ceremony.
The VIP seating arrangements had been a protocol headache for South Korean officials, who have been pushing for the Games to be known as “Peace Olympics.”
A possible meeting between North Korean officials and the US top diplomat would be considered a diplomatic breakthrough, following years of hostility that have been worsening lately with exchanges of military threats between US President Donald Trump and Kim.
The Trump administration has adopted a confused approach toward Pyongyang, attempting to both approach and reproach it.
Speaking in Japan on Wednesday, Pence had said the US was about to impose the “toughest and most aggressive round of economic sanctions on North Korea ever.”
Pence also said the US “has deployed some of our most advanced military assets to Japan and the wider region to protect our homeland and our allies. And we will continue to.”
Observers believe the US, sidelined amid the inter-Korean rapprochement, is attempting to sabotage it with the imposition of harsher sanctions against the North.