No Major Political World Leaders Will Attend Pyeongchang Olympics

David Song, Jan. 12, 2018, 9:27 a.m.

No major world leaders are expected at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang next month. President Moon Jae-in has invited Chinese President Xi Jinping and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, but neither is likely to turn up. Moon had hoped to celebrate the next three Olympics together with the Chinese and Japanese leaders, who host the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo and the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.

In a phone conversation on Thursday, Moon asked Xi to attend the closing ceremony but Xi did not give an immediate answer. Instead, China is expected to send a high-level delegation. U.S. President Donald Trump told Moon this week that he will send Vice President Mike Pence at the head of a U.S. delegation.

"The underlying message is the president is sending us there to make it clear that we stand with South Korea, we stand with our allies in the region," Pence told Fox News on Wednesday. "And we will continue to bring maximum economic and diplomatic pressure to bear until North Korea abandons its nuclear and ballistic missile programs that threaten the United States of America."

Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono last month said Abe will decide whether to attend the Olympics taking his parliamentary schedule and "all circumstances" into consideration. But amid a fresh bilateral spat over a deal compensating wartime sex slaves, the Sankei Shimbun reported Thursday that Abe decided not to attend.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said in a press briefing that nothing has been decided and Abe is "still contemplating." He could still change his mind because Japan is a winter sports powerhouse and wants to promote the 2020 Summer Olympics.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is also staying away because his country has been barred due to state-sponsored doping in the 2012 Olympics, although some Russian athletes can still compete under a neutral flag.

There was a time when Olympic Games played a huge role in international diplomacy and conferring prestige on the host, but now they have lost their luster to the extent that several Western cities have voted against their own governments' efforts to put them forward.

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