• Reuters, Kyodo

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North Korea has decided not to participate in the Beijing 2022 Olympics and Paralympics in response to the United States’ attempts to prevent “the successful opening of the Winter Games,” state-run media reported Friday.

State media blamed “hostile forces” and the worldwide pandemic for not being able to attend the upcoming Winter Olympics in Beijing and accused the United States and its allies of trying to prevent the Games’ success.

North Korea’s Olympic Committee and Ministry of Physical Culture and Sports sent a letter to counterparts in China, including the Beijing Olympics organising committee, expressing their support for the Games despite their absence, KCNA news agency reported.

North Korea was suspended from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) until the end of 2022 — meaning it would have missed out on the Beijing Winter Games regardless of Friday’s announcement — after failing to send a team to the Tokyo Olympics last year, citing COVID-19 concerns.

“We could not take part in the Olympics due to the hostile forces’ moves and the worldwide pandemic, but we would fully support the Chinese comrades in all their work to hold splendid and wonderful Olympic festival,” the letter said, according to KCNA.

The letter criticized moves by the United States and its allies as “an insult to the spirit of the international Olympic Charter and as a base act of attempting to disgrace the international image of China.”

It went on to say that preparations for the Beijing Olympics, which open Feb. 4, are “being satisfactorily made thanks to the positive efforts” by the leadership under Chinese President Xi Jinping, but “the U.S. and its vassal forces are getting ever more undisguised in their moves against China aimed at preventing the successful opening of the Olympics,” KCNA said.

North Korea has rejected “those moves, branding them as an insult to the spirit of the international Olympic Charter and as a base act of attempting to disgrace the international image of China,” the news agency quoted the country’s organizations as saying.

But Pyongyang has also promised to work with China toward the success of the Beijing Games, according to KCNA.

In a 2018 New Year’s speech, North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un extended an olive branch to South Korea, saying his nation would participate in the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics hosted by the South in February that year.

His younger sister and close aide, Kim Yo Jong, was part of a high-ranking North Korean delegation to the Olympics, becoming the first immediate family member of her grandfather and the country’s founder, Kim Il Sung, ever to set foot in South Korea.

This time, however, the United States and some other nations such as Britain and Australia have announced a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Olympics with criticism mounting over China’s alleged human rights abuses.

In December, the White House announced U.S. government officials will boycott the 2022 Winter Olympics because of China’s human rights “atrocities,” while leaving U.S. athletes free to travel to Beijing to compete.

Several other countries, including Britain, Australia, and Canada have also since announced diplomatic boycotts.

North Korea also said the global spread of COVID-19 has motivated it to skip the Beijing Olympics.

North Korea’s population is thought to be particularly vulnerable to the spread of infectious diseases due largely to chronic shortages of food and medical supplies triggered by economic sanctions designed to thwart its nuclear and ballistic missile ambitions.

It barred entry of foreigners during the 2003 severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, epidemic and at the time of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa in 2014.

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