North Korea today officially announced it will take part in this year’s Asian Games in Incheon, in neighbouring South Korea.
The decision was released in a short dispatch on the state-run Central News Agency (KCNA).
“The DPRK Olympic Committee officially informed [the Olympic Council of Asia] of the decision and will soon make necessary applications according to the rules set by the Council and the organizing committee of the Games,” the English-language statement read, referring to North Korea by the acronym of its official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
The Olympic Committee also added that the country is “guided by the idea of peace, unity and friendship.”
The Asian Games are due take place from September 19 to October 4.
It will be the third times the Games have been in South Korea, after 1986 in Seoul and 2002 in Busan.
North Korea did not enter the 1986 Asiad but competed at the 2002 event.
The timing of the announcement caught many officials by surprise because there has been raising tension on the Peninsula.
Only yesterday, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff claimed the North fired two artillery shells near a South Korean warship on patrol in the tensely guarded western sea border and that they had returned fire.
Earlier today, before the announcement they would compete at Incheon 2014, North Korea accused the South of making up the story and denied there had been any incident.
Among those who welcomed the announcement were China.
“We welcome the relevant decision made by the North Korean side concerning its participation into the relevant activity,” China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Hong Lei.
“We also hope that this will help improve the relationship between the two countries.
“The current situation on the Korean Peninsula is highly sensitive.
“We hope the relevant parties keep calm, exercise restraint and refrain from taking actions that may lead to military conflict.”
Despite the friction between the two countries, South Korean officials had been actively trying to persuade the North to confirm their participation in the Games and had enlisted the help of the OCA.
In February, officials in North Korean capital Pyongyang had claimed that they would allow athletes to compete at Incheon 2014 but had not confirmed their participation until now.
Last July, the North Korean women’s football team competed at the East Asian Cup held in South Korea, and went on to win the tournament over the hosts, Japan and China.
It was the first trip to the South by the North Korean women’s football squad since the 2005 East Asian Cup.
In August, Pyongyang extended an invitation to South Korean weightlifters to compete at the 2013 Asian Cup and Interclub Weightlifting Championship.
The North also approved the hoisting of the South Korean national flag and playing of its national anthem on the communist country’s soil for the first time.
North Korea made its Asian Games debut in 1974 in Tehran when they won a total of 46 medals, including 15 gold.
They have competed at every Games since Bangkok 1998 and at the last edition four years ago, in Guangzhou, claimed 36 medals, six of them gold.
They won the bulk of their medals in weightlifting, shooting and wrestling, events they are again expected to be strong in at Incheon 2014.
This article first appeared in Inside the Games and has been reproduced with permission. The original article can be viewed by clicking here.