International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach will visit North Korea after the Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Games as part of an agreement between the IOC and North and South Korea, a signal the Games are continuing to ease tensions between the two Koreas.
A source told Reuters the trip would be "sometime after the Olympic Games," which will end on February 25. The source did not comment on the agenda for the visit.
The visit shows that negotiations to ease tensions on the Korean Peninsula during the Winter Olympics have been successful, Lü Chao, a research fellow with the Liaoning Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times on Monday.
The visit is expected to extend the peaceful atmosphere after the Games, said Lü, adding that any progress made during the visit will help counter the animosity generated by the upcoming military drills between the US and South Korea.
Compared with other international organizations such as the UN, the IOC is less political, and sports exchanges could also serve as the first step for North Korea to step out of isolation and be more open to international society, said Lü.
North Korea could well accept the gesture as an olive branch and consider restraining its nuclear ambition, said Lü.
North Korea's top leader Kim Jong-un, a basketball fan, has boosted spending on sports as part of his ambition to transform North Korea into a "sports power," Reuters reported.
North Korea agreed to participate in the Pyeongchang Games after host South Korea and the IOC encouraged Pyongyang to come to the games as a gesture of peace.
Athletes from North and South Korea, which are technically still at war, marched together at the Games' opening ceremony and have fielded a unified women's ice hockey team, the first time an inter-Korean team has competed at any Olympic Games.
Experts noted that foreign countries outside the peninsula should also play a positive role in helping sustain the peaceful atmosphere.
The US is key to how long and how far these new-found inter-Korea relations can go, and South Korea needs to try harder to persuade the US to relax its stance, Zheng Jiyong, director of the Center for Korean Studies at Fudan University, told the Global Times on Monday.
The IOC and the two Koreas signed a tripartite agreement on January 20 in Lausanne that set out the details of North Korea's Olympic participation, including the number of athletes, the sports in which they would take part, the size and composition of their delegations and their joint march of athletes during the opening ceremony.
The agreement was seen as a breakthrough given the Koreas had not participated under one flag at an Olympics in more than 12 years.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in hosted two of North Korea's most senior officials at the Games' opening ceremony, including North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's sister. Moon warmly shook hands with her and later held talks with her in Seoul.
Kim Jong-un has invited Moon for talks in Pyongyang, setting the stage for the first meeting of Korean leaders in more than a decade.
The thaw in relations has so far only centered on the Olympics, but a senior American member of the IOC said the joint ice hockey team should be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Newspaper headline: IOC head to visit N.Korea