With the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang all but wrapped up, there were still some lingering surprises for the last day of activities. Sunday saw the final competitions as well as the games' closing event, and as the latter was set to begin, some had political intrigue on the mind: With whom would Ivanka Trump sit during the closing ceremony?
Wearing a white coat designed to keep her warm in the frigid temperatures, Ivanka sat with South Korea president Moon Jae-in. The two sat in the VIP box, along with IOC president Thomas Bach and a handful of others. Behind them sat Kim Yong Chol, a North Korea delegate. Both stood for the South Korea anthem, but the representatives did not communicate.
All eyes had been on Trump during the closing ceremony after Vice President Mike Pence's high-profile stunt at the opening event. Then, Pence sat just feet away from Kim Yo Jong, the sister of North Korea's leader. He had previously made it known that he intended to "make sure that North Korea doesn't use the powerful symbolism and the backdrop of the Winter Olympics to paper over the truth about their regime," and sure enough, he refused to stand for the North Korean delegation during the ceremony's athletes parade. He did not speak to any of the DPRK officials near him during the event.
Prior to the closing ceremony, the White House said that Ivanka Trump would probably not meet with the North Koreans delegation that would be in attendance. Sure enough, she did not sit with them.
Relations between the United States and North Korea were cold during the games. On Friday, President Donald Trump imposed strict shipping sanctions on the DPRK, calling them "the largest-ever set of new sanctions on the North Korean regime." Meanwhile, the North Korean officials offered to meet with Vice President Mike Pence at the Olympics but then abruptly canceled the plan at the last minute.
But Ivanka Trump's own avoidance of the DPRK delegation likely has more to do with the fact that her visit was meant to celebrate the U.S. rather than to act out political gestures. CBS News pointed out that the White House is marketing her attendance as a show of support for the U.S. athletes as opposed to a symbolic gesture of strength against North Korea, as was the case for Pence.
Ivanka Trump's attendance at the Olympics was first confirmed by the White House on Thursday.
"I am honored to lead the U.S. delegation to the closing ceremonies of the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics," she said in a statement. "We look forward to congratulating Team USA and celebrating all that our athletes have achieved. Their talent, drive, grit and spirit embodies American excellence, and inspire us all."
She arrived in South Korea on Friday and dined with President Moon Jae-in later that day. On Saturday and Sunday she watched sporting competitions, culminating in her appearance at the closing ceremony Sunday night South Korea time.