South Korea proposes high level talks with North Korea; China expresses support

The proposed talks are intended to discuss the upcoming Olympics and the North's participation

South Korean Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon (By Associated Press)

BEJIING & SEOUL (dpa) –-  Seoul on Tuesday offered to hold high-level talks with North Korea, one day after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un extended his country's bitter rival a rare olive branch during his New Year's address.

Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon proposed that the two sides meet in the village of Panmunjom in the demilitarized zone on January 9 to discuss North Korea's participation in the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.

If the talks take place, they will be first meeting between the two governments in more than two years.

Kim on Monday signaled a willingness to hold talks with South Korea and send a delegation to the Games in February.

"The Winter Games to be held in South Korea will be a good occasion for the country. We sincerely hope that the Winter Olympics will be a success," Yonhap reported Kim as saying.

"We are ready to take various steps, including the dispatch of the delegation. To this end, the two Koreas can immediately meet," he added.

South Korea reacted to his proposal with a call for diplomacy and dialogue.

The South Korean government said Monday it "hopes that South and North Korea can peacefully resolve the North Korean nuclear issue together in close cooperation with the international community."

China also "welcomes and supports" South Korea's initiative to hold high-level talks with North Korea ahead of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said Tuesday.

"We have noticed the positive message released by the leaders of the two Koreas about the improvement of their relations and [North Korea's] participation in the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics," said spokesman Geng Shuang.

"This is a good thing. China welcomes and supports that both North Korea and South Korea take this as an opportunity to make effective efforts to improve their mutual relations and promote the relaxation of the situation on the peninsula and the denuclearization of the peninsula."