Hyon Song Wol is visiting South Korea ahead next month's Olympic Games
Her visit has been covered extensively by local media
The lead singer of Kim Jong Un’s favorite girl band toured Seoul Monday to scout venues for North Korea’s art troupe when they perform at next month’s Winter Olympics.
Heavy security followed Hyon Song Wol and six other North Koreans as they traversed the South Korean capital, followed at every step by huge media scrums.
In a country where K-pop reigns supreme, Hyon’s trip appears to have created the perfect storm for the South Korean media: a young, attractive musician whose visit carries geopolitical implications.
A member of the popular all-girl group Moranbong, Hyon was once the subject of unsubstantiated rumors that she dated Kim Jong Un. It was also reported that she may have been later executed by him in 2013.
Hyon’s image has been plastered across the front pages of many South Korean newspapers and magazines, while TV stations have provided near wall-to-wall coverage. The intense interest in Hyon’s visit has seen even the smallest of details poured over. South Korean broadcaster YTN ran a report revealing Hyon ate a dish called fish hangover soup for breakfast. Another station analyzed her choice of coffee.
Hyon is set to lead the North Korean art troupe that will go to the Pyeongchang Games, a development that came thanks to this month’s face-to-face negotiations between Seoul and Pyongyang, the first in almost than two years.
Her visit did have its opponents, with 30 to 40 protesters attempting to set fire Monday to a portrait of Kim Jong Un and North Korean flags.
A small group of the protesters scuffled with police who kept them well clear of the North Korean delegation. Many of the protestors were older, conservative South Koreans who largely oppose South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s strategy of increased engagement with North Korea.
“The local media and news industries should get their stories straight,” they chanted.
“We are against North Koreans coming here,” others said.
John Delury, a professor at Seoul’s Yonsei University’s Graduate School of International Relations, said the scenes in South Korea are indicative of the “awkward relationship” between the two Koreas.
“What we’re seeing is a very complex reaction on the part of the South Korean public to this sort of suddenly getting up close to North Korea again in a way that hasn’t really happened in 10 years,” he said.
But he cautioned against reading too much into the protests and the crowds surrounding Hyon.
“There are multiple levels of media distortion, because cameras love attractive people and fire,” he said. “People I talk to, there’s some ambivalence. Overall, most people see this (the North’s participation in the Olympics) as a good thing, but it’s not like people are glued to their TV set watching the next move by Ms. Hyon.”
There’s been a dramatic thaw in relations between the two Koreas since the start of year when the two reopened dialogue, ostensibly to talk about North Korea’s involvement in the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. They later agreed to conduct military talks.
Over the weekend, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) approved a handful of proposals put forward by Pyongyang and Seoul for North Korea’s participation in the Games.
The IOC announced that it will:
- grant accreditation for 22 North Korean athletes, 24 North Korean officials and 21 media representatives from the secluded communist nation
- allow both countries to march under a unified flag
- approve the creation of a unified women’s ice hockey team
- allow two North Korean figure skaters, two short track speed skaters, three cross-country skiers and three alpine skiers to compete in the Games
“The Olympic Winter Games Pyeongchang 2018 are hopefully opening the door to a brighter future on the Korean Peninsula and inviting the world to join in a celebration of hope,” IOC President Thomas Bach said in remarks announcing the decisions.
CNN’s Rebecca Wright and Angus Watson contributed reporting