Feb. 16 (UPI) -- North Korea is sending its national team to the 2017 Asian Winter Games in Sapporo, Japan, where Pyongyang's athletes might engage in friendly competition with teams from rivals South Korea and Japan.
The team is going to Japan at a time when Tokyo has prohibited North Korea passport holders from entering the country.
The North Korean team was in transit in Beijing on Thursday, Japanese newspaper Sankei Shimbun reported.
North Korea's International Olympic Committee delegate Jang Ung was traveling with five North Korean speed skaters and other officers, according to the report.
At the airport in Beijing, a Japanese reporter asked Jang what he thought about the recent assassination of Kim Jong Nam.
Jang replied, "I am not a politician but a sports professional."
Japan has banned the entry of North Korea passport holders since 2016, when the Kim Jong Un regime conducted two nuclear tests and dozens of ballistic missile firings.
But Tokyo has agreed to let the North Korea team participate in the sporting event to be held Feb. 19-26, and to generally admit North Koreans for sporting events, according to South Korean news service Newsis.
In February 2016, the North Korean women's football team received permission to take part in the qualifying round in Osaka, ahead of the Rio 2016 Summer Olympics.
A total of 32 Asian countries are expected to participate in the Asian Winter Games, and more than 2,000 athletes are expected to be competing against each other.
North Korea has previously sent teams to participate in international sporting events held in South Korea, including the Incheon Asian Games in 2014.