Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chul expressed disappointment on Thursday over an inter-Korean World Cup qualifier held in Pyongyang without any spectators or live broadcast, saying that it might reflect a recent "lull" in inter-Korean relations.
On Tuesday, the two Koreas played to a scoreless draw in the match at Kim Il-sung Stadium. No spectators or reporters were allowed in the stadium, and only a small number of sports officials and foreign diplomats were able to watch the game.
Pyongyang did not respond to Seoul's repeated calls to allow South Koreans to watch the game. Negotiations with the North to televise the rare sports event live for a South Korean audience also fell apart at the last minute.
"It's very disappointing," Unification Minister Kim told lawmakers during a parliamentary audit when asked about Tuesday's football match. "As unification minister, I feel heavily responsible and sorry."
He added, "There could be many reasons why the North gave up the revenues from broadcasting and ticket sales, but it appears that the decision reflects a lull in inter-Korean relations."
Tuesday's match was the first such event since 1990, when the two Koreas held a friendly in the North Korean capital. Seoul had hoped that the game could serve as an impetus to move stalled cross-border ties forward again.
North Korea has, since the no-deal summit between its leader Kim Jong-un and U.S. President Donald Trump in February, been uncooperative when it comes to Seoul's proposals for discussion of cross-border projects in various non-economic fields.
The North has blamed the South for dragging its feet in improving their ties out of fear of U.S., urging it to take the initiative in inter-Korean relations independently of Washington.
Regarding the North's silence on Seoul's offer to work together to prevent the spread of African swine fever, the minister said he will further review ways to work with the North, such as through international organizations.
"We also plan to cooperate with interested non-governmental organizations in and outside of the country if we can," he said.
Regarding controversies surrounding a new contract awarded to a local news outlet to distribute content from North Korea's Rodong Sinmun newspaper, Kim said the ministry is reviewing the matter comprehensively, including its possible impact on inter-Korean cooperation.
News1, a news agency associated with the MoneyToday Media group, purchased the rights to distribute Rodong Sinmun contents from Korea Media, a Japan-based broker handling the issue on behalf of the North's official newspaper.
The news agency is currently awaiting final permission from the unification ministry.
"We are comprehensively reviewing the matter as thoughts have to be made on how the contract could affect the order of exchanges and cooperation (between the two Koreas)," he said.
Controversies arose after News1 made an offer that was triple the original payment offer. The distribution rights were previously held by South Korea's key wire service, Yonhap News Agency.
Yonhap News Agency, South Korea's representative news agency, had been providing the content of the North's newspaper, along with relevant stories, since March 2017 but Korea Media unilaterally terminated the contract late last year, without providing reasons. (Yonhap)