Vice-President Mike Pence’s plan to use his trip to the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang to further isolate Pyongyang didn’t go very well. For about a week, Pence and his press people have been promoting how the VP was going to stand up to the North Korean propaganda machine and deny them their opportunity to “hijack the message and imagery” of the Games, but the political story of the Games so far has been the continued signs of a significant thaw between Pyongyang and South Korea, the staunch U.S. ally.
On Friday, Pence insisted that the U.S. would remain opposed to talks between North and South Korea until North Korea agreed to discuss denuclearization. He also avoided the North Korean delegation, which included Kim Yo-jong, the sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, at a VIP reception for delegation leaders, when even Japanese president Shinzo Abe — no fan of North Korea — said hello. And Pence’s icy treatment continued at the opening ceremonies on Friday night. While President Moon and members of the North Korean delegation stood and applauded the temporarily unified team of South and North Korean athletes, Pence — who was sitting in the same VIP box in front of the North Korean delegation — remained seated and became an awkward photo bomber. Indeed, some experts are worried that Pence’s dour attitude toward the host nation’s team will just be seen as disrespectful.
It didn’t get better for Pence’s anti-thaw stance on Saturday either. President Moon welcomed Kim Yo-jong and another high-ranking North Korean official for lunch at the presidential residence, and she took the opportunity to extend an official invitation for Moon to visit North Korea.
Pence and his people had essentially no comment on that significant development as Pence left South Korea later in the day. “The vice-president is grateful that President Moon reaffirmed his strong commitment to the global maximum pressure campaign and for his support for continued sanctions,” Pence’s spokesperson said in response. On Air Force Two, Pence then insisted, “There is no daylight between the United States, the Republic of Korea, and Japan on the need to continue to isolate North Korea economically and diplomatically until they abandon their nuclear ballistic missile program.” According to CNN, though Moon and Pence did not discuss the invitation during an afternoon meeting, a U.S. official “added that Pence does not believe that the invitation dilutes the toughness of the United States pressure campaign on North Korea.”
So despite his concerted efforts to highlight North Korea’s numerous offenses and push Moon to hold the hard line against Pyongyang, Pence seems to have been reduced to being a tag-along in yet another world leader’s entourage.
Then again, when trying to upstage the regime of a bombastic blowhard on the world stage, never send a Mike Pence to do a Donald Trump job.