The Winter Olympics officially began Friday with the Opening Ceremony in Pyeongchang, and while most eyes were trained on the athletes entering the icy Olympic Stadium, observers of international politics were watching a VIP box where Vice-President Mike Pence was seated a few feet away from Kim Yo-jong, sister of North Korean president Kim Jong-un.
Pence, who sat next to his wife Karen, studiously avoided Kim, who was seated with Kim Yong-nam, North Korea’s ceremonial head of state, the VP’s office said.
Earlier Friday, Pence went to even greater lengths to avoid Kim Yong-nam at a dinner put on by South Korean president Moon Jae-in. After showing up late, the VP intended to quickly leave after a photo session. Moon asked him to greet the other dignitaries at the event and Pence did, shaking the hands of everyone at the VIP table except for Kim Yong-nam.
Then he left, which a Moon administration told Reuters was a “mere bump” during a successful event. By leaving early, Pence missed out on a special dessert — a chocolate representation of the Korean peninsula with a dark chocolate piece of barbed wire laying over it.
Despite the attempt by Moon to bring adversaries together, Pence has remained strident in his criticism of North Korea since arriving in Pyeongchang. On Friday, hours before the ceremony, he said, “The simple truth is that the time has come for North Korea to permanently abandon its nuclear and ballistic missile ambitions, to recognize there is no future as a member of the family of nations for a nuclear-empowered North Korea.”
And then, during the ceremonies, as North and South Korean athletes entered the stadium together under a unified flag, Pence and his wife Karen remained seated while everyone around them rose to applaud.