Relations between the USA and North Korea have failed to thaw despite two of the most senior representatives of their countries coming face to face.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has warned South Korean President Moon Jae-in not to fall for North Korea's "smile diplomacy" during the Olympics, saying the North remains committed to developing nuclear weapons and missiles even while pursuing talks with the South. Pence declined the dinner-he chose to spend the time with American athletes, instead-where he would have been sat across from Kim Jong Nam.
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Led by Kim Young-nam, who is North Korea's nominal head of state, the four-member delegation also includes Choe Hwi, chairman of the National Sports Guidance Committee, and Ri Son-gwon, chairman of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland.
Pence's absence undid some careful organising, according to a seating diagram provided by a South Korean government source and protocol experts.
The head of the North Korean army's politburo has been purged and three other senior officers have been either removed from office or are undergoing "re-revolutionisation education", with analysts suggesting that such a wide-ranging clear-out of its top ranks could harden the army's resistance to Mr Kim's leadership. They said Pence could have opted to sit with the U.S. delegation and avoided the box that included the North Koreans.
Moon also told Kim's sister that the North should have a dialogue with the U.S. South Korea puts the blame on Pyongyang saying that they were responsible for the torpedo attack in the high seas.
While the Olympics - especially the opening ceremony - are an opportunity to showcase a nation's sartorial heritage, this seems to be a case of normalization on the world stage of a regime devoid of diplomatic ties with many Western nations.
Perhaps it was deliberately scaled down as a gesture of goodwill to South Korea and rapid rapprochement ahead of the Olympics. They reported live on the convoy as it traveled from the delegates' hotel to the Blue House. As Kim's regime has tested a series of ballistic missiles and threatened nuclear way, Trump famously vowed "fire and fury" against the North if the provocations continued.