INCHEON, South Korea (AFP) – North Korea were welcomed to the Asian Games on Thursday to the strains of “Gangnam Style”, their athletes and officials gave a polite smile but put up a wall of stony silence in return.
North Korean athletes looked on blankly as breakdancers performed to the international hit by South Korean star Psy.
Their Singaporean, Chinese, Thai and Yemeni counterparts smiled and took pictures as dancers spun to the tune that has inspired more than two billion YouTube views. Only one North Korean woman dared the slightest handclap.
In contrast, the North Korean delegation belted out the words to their national anthem, “Aegukga”, or Patriotic Song, as the isolated state’s flag was hoisted in the athletes village along with those of the other new arrivals.
It was a unique occasion as normally anyone waving the North’s flag or singing “Aegukga” in South Korea could face arrest under Seoul’s strict national security law.
North Korea’s presence has been one of the main talking points ahead of the Asian Games, which officially open in Incheon on Friday.
Their athletes and officials, mobbed by journalists at the flag-raising ceremony, appeared to be under instruction to stay tight-lipped. A couple of burly minders were on hand to fend off persistent reporters.
Dressed in pristine white blazers and vivid blue trousers, and all wearing obligatory pin badges featuring North Korea’s dead leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, the athletes responded to questions with polite smiles and total silence.
Only one official broke ranks, saying when asked how the delegation felt about the event: “Just look, you can see for yourself.” The North Koreans seemed bemused by the whole ceremony.
The athletes were accompanied on their walk to the flag plaza at the village by clowns on stilts and unicyles, as well someone dressed up as one of the Games mascots – Chumoro, a cuddly pink seal.
As the North Koreans made their way from the plaza to their accommodation block they were surrounded by a rolling maul of camaramen, photographers and reporters – but still kept mum.