Police patrol in the medal plaza as national flags fly ahead of the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympic Games in the Hoenggye-ri village area of Pyeongchang, Gangwon Province, South Korea. (Photographer: Jean Chung/Bloomberg)

The Olympics VIP Guest List Could Trigger a Diplomatic Nightmare

(Bloomberg) -- The Winter Olympics’s opening ceremony in South Korea -- including a group of VIPs whose governments may determine whether the world sees a nuclear war -- presents more than a few headaches for seat planners.

There’s U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who won’t want to be seen chatting with the North Korean delegation, which includes Kim Jong Un’s younger sister. And the host, South Korean President Moon Jae-in, may also want to be careful around Abe, as the pair feud over compensation for World War II sex slaves.

Here are the key players:

Kim Yo Jong

The younger sister of Kim Jong Un, will be the Kim’s dynasty’s first official representative to set foot in the south. Her visit shows Kim is serious about improving ties with South Korea, but may deepen the growing rift between Seoul and Washington -- especially because she is subject to U.S. sanctions.

Moon Jae-in

The South Korean president has spent a lot of political capital extending olive branches to North Korea, prompting unease from voters who resent sharing the global stage with a renegade regime. But in his view, the Olympics could help create the environment for a North-South summit, and ultimately nuclear talks between Pyongyang and Washington.

Mike Pence

On his swing through East Asia this week, Pence has maintained President Donald Trump’s hard line against Pyongyang, promising tougher sanctions and saying Wednesday in Tokyo that the U.S. “will not allow North Korean propaganda to hijack the message and imagery of the Olympic Games.” Still, he hasn’t ruled out the possibility for meeting the other side.

Fred Warmbier

Pence will bring a reminder of the cruelty of the Kim regime to the ceremony: the father of Otto Warmbier, an American student who died last year after being jailed in North Korea. Pence’s meeting with Abe this week was probably designed to tell Moon to avoid undermining the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign against Kim, according to Tobias Harris, a vice president at Teneo Intelligence in Washington.

Shinzo Abe

The Japanese prime minister will take two messages to the Olympics. He’ll urge Moon to stick with Japan and the U.S. in cranking up the pressure on Kim. He’ll also convey his anger over the South Korean president’s wavering on a 2015 agreement to compensate so-called comfort women trafficked to Japanese military brothels before and during World War II. Moon has criticized the deal as flawed.

Han Zheng

China’s choice of envoy says more about its strained ties with the host country than North Korea. The former Shanghai chief ranks seventh in the Communist Party hierarchy, high-enough ranking to show respect and maintain efforts to repair relations soured after South Korea deployed a U.S. anti-missile system that China views as a threat to its own security.

The Others

The guest list also includes:

  • United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres
  • German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier
  • Slovenian President Borut Pahor
  • Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg
  • Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte
  • Swedish King Carl XVI Gustav
  • Finnish Prime Minister Juha Sipila
  • Canadian Governor General Julie Payette
  • Swiss President Alain Berset
  • Polish President Andrzej Duda
  • Slovak President Andrej Kiska
  • Liechtenstein Prime Minister Adrian Hasler
  • Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite
  • Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid
  • Latvian President Raimonds Vejonis
  • Grand Duke Henri of Luxembourg
  • Danish Crown Prince Frederik
  • Prince Albert II of Monaco

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.

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