Navigating between its crucial military ally and its biggest foreign market, South Korea announced Tuesday it will send a mid-level Cabinet minister and the speaker of its National Assembly to head its delegation to the Winter Olympics in Beijing next month.
The Biden administration and a small number of close U.S. allies have announced a “diplomatic boycott” of the Games, allowing national athletes to compete but sending no official delegation of government officials to observe the two-week sports spectacle. President Biden called for the boycott citing China’s human rights record at home and aggressive policies against Hong Kong and Taiwan.
The move angered Beijing, and South Korea‘s decision on whether to join the boycott has been closely watched.
The U.S. has had a long military alliance with Seoul to protect against the threat from North Korea, but China has emerged as by far the country’s leading export market in recent years.
Outgoing President Moon Jae-in said last month he would not be going to Beijing for the Games but rejected the idea of a full diplomatic boycott.
The South Korean Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism said this week that Minister Hwang Hee will attend the Feb. 4 opening ceremony of the Chinese Olympic Games as the chief of the government’s official delegation. In addition to heading the delegation, Mr. Hwang will work to build support for the 2024 Winter Youth Olympic Games, to be held in Gangwon.
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Both the South Korean and Chinese press also reported that South Korean National Assembly Speaker Park Byeong-seug will also travel to Beijing for the Games at the invitation of Li Zhanshu, chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress. China’s Foreign Ministry welcomed the decision, saying the visit “shows the strong friendship between China and South Korea.”