According to a state-run website from North Korea, the government is deciding to skip the 2021 Olympics that Tokyo is hosting in 2021. The official reason for dropping out for the first time in over thirty years is the coronavirus, but it might be an issue that runs deeper than the virus.
In the past, North Korea used global sporting events like the Olympics to create diplomatic opportunities. The goal was to create sanctions relief in exchange for nuclear disarmament, which now cannot happen since they’re choosing not to participate.
That’s why some analysts think that the decision is more of a message to the Biden administration than an issue with COVID-19.
It’s Not the First Time North Korea Has Taken This Action
In previous years, North Korea boycotted the Olympics and other international sports events for political reasons. It has sometimes decided not to attend or support the global athletics community when no one qualified to participate.
It is the first time that the North Korean government has cited an infectious disease for deciding not to participate.
The government has the reputation for withdrawing from talks or political discourse, only to return at the last second to enhance its bargaining power. Since the nation has been on high alert to prevent COVID-19, this step might be a permanent one.
Without any healthcare infrastructure to support the general population, North Korea has had to take draconian steps to prevent the spread of the disease. That includes preventing foreign nationals from leaving while having a 15-month closure of its international borders.
With little movement on nuclear talks, Biden has already said that North Korea won’t get the same attention as it did with the Trump administration. That meant they’d leave Tokyo empty-handed, so there is no purpose for their attendance.
Continued domestic challenges might change that perspective in the future.