April 7, 2021


North Korea is the first country to drop out of the Tokyo Olympics officially. Leaders used COVID-19 as the reason for not sending athletes to the games in the summer of 2021. The East Asian nation has been one of the most restrictive against the virus, but the world is skeptical that COVID-19 is the real reason behind the withdrawal.

Beliefs Behind the Withdrawal

If COVID-19 spread through the country from an athlete attending the games, it could be detrimental. There is validity to North Korea’s claim that the virus is too risky to send athletes to the Olympics. North Korea will probably not be the only country to remove their nation’s Olympians from competing in Tokyo.

However, many people believe that there is a hidden message behind North Korea’s actions. This is not the first time that the nation has boycotted significant sporting events for political reasons. The 2021 Summer Olympics will be the first time North Korea is citing a health concern for not participating.

In the past, North Korea has backed out of sporting events before reversing decisions at the last minute as a way to have discussions with leaders in Seoul and the United States. This tactic has given North Korea an increase in bargaining power, but experts expect that the country will not change its judgment.

Is There a Political Undertone in North Korea’s Decision?

Park Won Gon, a professor of North Korea Studies at Ewha Womans University in Seoul, has been outspoken about the country’s decision to back out of the Olympics. She said the nation does not have a chance at vaccinating a majority of its 26 million citizens by July.

North Korea has shut its international border for the past 15 months. The country has also forced all international visitors to leave the country. Press releases from Pyongyang have stated there are zero COVID-19 cases in the country. However, critics have stated that this is most likely fiction.

What Does This Mean for Washington and President Biden?

By not sending athletes to the Olympic Games, North Korean leadership is saying that they have no willingness to talk about their actions or nuclear weapons. It also applies pressure to President Biden to reach out to Pyongyang over the country’s deadly nuclear weapons.

North Korea does not want to deal with all the nations at the Olympics. They want to face the United States directly. President Biden and his administration must develop a plan on how to deal with the autocracy.

The nuclear weapons discussions between the United States and North Korea began in 2018 after the nation participated in the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics. There has not been much significant progress with these discussions, but they will surely continue now. The ball is in President Biden’s court.

Two weeks ago, President Biden warned North Korea of “responses” if the country did not stop ballistic missile testing. A senior North Korean official said Biden’s statements infringed upon the country’s right to self-defense. He also claimed Biden’s statements were made in a provoking manner.

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