North Korea announced Monday it will send a cheerleading squad along with its 150 athletes to Incheon, South Korea for the upcoming 17th Asian Games.
According to the official Korean Central News Agency, the cheerleaders are intended to create an atmosphere of reconciliation between the two Koreas. The gesture follows weeks of missile testing by North Korea.
"Our sincere decision this time will melt the frozen North-South relations with the heat of national reconciliation while displaying the entire Korean people's will of unification in and outside [of the peninsula]," said the KCNA report.
North Korea said the cheerleaders show Pyongyang’s commitment to unification and improving relationships between the North and the South.
North Korea has sent cheerleaders to South Korea before, most recently in 2005 for the Asian Athletic Championships held in Incheon. That squad included Ri Sol-ju, who is now the wife of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un.
The South Korean Yonhap News Agency quoted the South Korean head of an inter-Korean civil sports exchange body, Kim Gyeong-sung, as saying the cheerleading squad may be composed of “around 100 women [in their 20s] who are chosen on the basis of appearance and [loyalty to the regime in Pyongyang]."
The North Korean cheerleaders have proven to be a rare popular attraction, and have been praised by South Korea for their well-organized choreography and peaceful cheers.
The North’s announcement comes amidst heightened military tensions with the South, as North Korea demanded last week that the South end its joint military drills with the U.S. which was immediately dismissed, due to unsolved concerns regarding North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.