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Tokyo Olympics offers opportunity to advance inter-Korea ties, Seoul says

Tokyo Olympics offers opportunity to advance inter-Korea ties, Seoul says
South Korea is not ruling out improved relations with Pyongyang after the 2021 Summer Games in Tokyo. File Photo by Keizo Mori/UPI | License Photo

March 22 (UPI) -- South Korea said the upcoming Tokyo Olympics could be an opportunity to advance relations with North Korea on the same day that Chinese state media said Kim Jong Un and Xi Jinping vowed to develop bilateral ties.

South Korean Unification Ministry spokeswoman Lee Jong-joo said Monday at a regular press briefing there are a "number of opportunities" to promote the "Korean Peninsula peace process," and that the 2021 Summer Games could be one opportunity, News 1 reported.

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"We will continue to look for ways to advance the peace process on the Korean Peninsula according to the given conditions and circumstances," Lee said.

The statement from the ministry comes after officials in Japan confirmed the Tokyo Olympics is to be held without foreign spectators amid COVID-19.

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Before the decision, South Korean President Moon Jae-in on March 1 said the Olympics could be an opportunity for dialogue among South Korea, Japan, North Korea and the United States.

Seoul's proposal the Olympics could still be used as a venue to improve inter-Korean relations comes as Pyongyang leans further into its close ties with China.

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Chinese state-owned news agency Xinhua reported Monday that the North Korean leader and Xi exchanged verbal messages through their diplomats.

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Ri Ryong Nam, North Korea's new ambassador to Beijing, began his term last week after two weeks in COVID-19 quarantine.

Kim reportedly told Xi North Korea wants to boost ties. Xi said China supports a "political settlement of the Korean Peninsula issue" while developing ties with North Korea, according to Xinhua.

China factors heavily into U.S. dealings with North Korea, which is estimated to have about 20 to 30 nuclear warheads, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute in 2019.

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"Beijing has an interest, a clear self-interest in helping to pursue the denuclearization of" North Korea, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in Seoul on Thursday.

Blinken said last week after meeting with Chinese officials in Alaska that China and U.S. interests "intersect" on North Korea. The top U.S. diplomat did not provide details of the discussions.

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