- Thomson Reuters
- Vice President Mike Pence will head to the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in South Korea on a mission to slap down North Korea’s projected propaganda coup.
- Many worry that North Korea will use the Olympics and its military parade before the games to score good press coverage for the regime.
- The US wants to keep the world on track and continue uniting nations against North Korea, so Pence’s trip will focus on making sure Pyongyang doesn’t come out looking too good.
Vice President Mike Pence will head to the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in South Korea on a mission to slap down North Korea’s projected propaganda coup.
North Korea has shown an unprecedented willingness to talk with South Korea about its inclusion in the games, and the talks came at a time of record-high tensions between the US and Pyongyang after a summer filled with nuclear and missile provocations.
But experts observing the negotiations feared Pyongyang was less than genuine in expressing a desire to see a united Korea, and instead wanted to lure Seoul into the trap of decoupling it from its ally, the US.
With a potentially massive military parade that some expect to show off “dozens” of nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missiles the day before the Olympics kicks off, it seems North Korea has taken all necessary steps to paint itself as a powerful yet restrained nuclear nation capable of backing down the US not just militarily, but also in media messaging.
Sources close to Pence told Axios that the vice president’s trip would focus on beating back the narrative laid out by Pyongyang, and keeping international focus on depriving the country of nuclear status.
“The Vice President will remind the world that everything the North Koreans do at the Olympics is a charade to cover up the fact that they are the most tyrannical and oppressive regime on the planet,” the source told Axios. “At every opportunity, the V.P. will point out the reality of the oppression in North Korea by a regime that has enslaved its people.”
The source said Pence will “not allow North Korea’s propaganda to hijack the messaging of the Olympics,” repeating the phrase “hijacked,” which Pence had previously used to characterize Pyongyang’s attempt to dominate the games.
Pence’s media counter-offensive follows an uptick in President Donald Trump’s focus on North Korea’s abysmal human rights record. On Friday, Trump had a group of North Korean defectors visit him in the Oval Office, where he ominously told them there may be “no road” left for Washington and Pyongyang to run down as they both stand on the nuclear brink.
The Olympics, and North Korea’s big shot at winning some international prestige, come at a time when international pressure against Pyongyang has crested. The Trump administration has succeeded like no other before it in getting nations to ban trade with North Korea, and Pence’s trip will reportedly look to make sure those positions do not start to backslide.
“North Korea wants to make this about cute photo ops,” the source told Axios, adding that the US is not “going to cede two weeks of world media to North Korea.”
Pence’s trip will also bring him to Japan, a US ally that has turned increasingly hawkish on Pyongyang, and to meet with South Korean President Moon Jae at the Cheonan Memorial, which pays homage to the 46 sailors killed when North Korea sunk a South Korean navy ship in 2010.