Having invited the leaders of key Northeast Asian countries to the upcoming PyeongChang Winter Olympics, South Korea is pushing to make the international sports event also a venue for summit diplomacy.
President Moon Jae-in personally invited Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Russian President Vladimir Putin to the Olympics that South Korea will host from Feb. 9-25 in the alpine city of PyeongChang, during his summit meetings with them on the sidelines of a Russian international forum early this month.
Moon also formally requested Chinese President Xi Jinping visit South Korea during the Olympics season when the leaders met in July in Berlin.
In his address to the United Nations General Assembly last week, the South Korean president expressed his aspiration to make the Olympics "an opportunity for promoting peace and economic cooperation in Northeast Asia."
There, he also invited the heads of states from around the world to PyeongChang, stressing, "The steps you take together will become a march for peace."
Still, whether the personally invited leaders of Northeast Asia will actually fly to South Korea for the Olympics remains to be decided, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
But the leaders of China and Japan have reasons enough to come; Tokyo is on course to host the Summer Olympics in 2020, while Beijing will be the host of the Winter Olympics for 2022. They might want to see for themselves how the neighboring country hosts the upcoming event in preparations for their own events.
A Japanese news report has said in July that Abe is positively considering accepting the invitation and visiting South Korea during the event.
When Seoul hosted the 1988 Summer Olympics, then Japanese Prime Minister Noboru Takeshita came over. Then South Korean President Kim Dae-jung and then-Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi also visited each other's country when the two neighbors co-hosted the 2002 World Cup.
Though Xi's trip to South Korea remains unclear amid a diplomatic thorn over South Korea's deployment of the U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense air shield, a gathering of the leaders from South Korea, China, Japan and Russia could be a boon to regional peace making at a time North Korea's nuclear weapons program is threatening regional stability and rekindling Cold War-era division.
It would further push up the profile of the PyeongChang Olympics if North Korea also decides to compete in the upcoming event as South Korea desires and is working toward it.
"The Olympics are expected to become an important opportunity for building peace on the Korean Peninsula as the message of Olympics is peace," a ministry official said. "The president's invitation to state leaders is based on efforts to send a message of aspiring for peace on the Korean Peninsula and to muster commitment for that.
"As China and Japan are the hosts of the next Olympics, the PyeongChang Olympics may be able to facilitate cooperation among the three Northeast Asian nations."
(AP-Yonhap file photo)(Yonhap News)