INCHEON, Sept. 17 (Yonhap) -- North Korea has sent most of its high-ranking sports officials to South Korea to lead its delegation at the upcoming Asian Games and to engage in sports diplomacy, organizers and experts said Wednesday.
Kim Yong-hun, head of the North's Olympic Committee, arrived in the western port city of Incheon Tuesday to lead the 273-member delegation, including 150 athletes who will compete in 14 sports at the 17th Asian Games set to begin on Friday for a 16-day run. So far, 181 athletes and officials have crossed the border for the event.
Kim, who is little known to the outside world, was named the minister of Physical Culture and Sports of the communist country in May. He has been in charge of Pyongyang's sporting sector under the Kim Jong-un regime.
He is also the highest-ranked North Korean official to visit the South since 2009.
Although details of his stay here are not available, he is widely expected to meet his athletes, take part in Friday's opening ceremony for the games, and to attend the general assembly of the Olympic Council of Asia this week.
The North Korean delegation for the upcoming Incheon Asian Games arrives in South Korea on Sept. 16, 2014. (Yonhap file phto)
Kim will be accompanied throughout his stay in South Korea by a handful of vice ministerial-level officials.
Kim Pyong-sik, vice-minister of the sports department, takes the role of chief of the North Korean athletes. He brings a wealth of experience in the field both at home and abroad, according to the Korean Central News Agency, the North's state broadcaster.
Son Kwang-ho, vice chairman of the North's Olympic committee, along with its senior member, Jang Su-myong, are also on the list of the North Korean delegation to the Asiad.
"Sending these senior officials to South Korea indicates that the North will proactively engage in sports diplomacy in accordance with the will of its leader Kim Jong-un," said Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul.
Since taking office in 2011, the North's young leader has put an emphasis on boosting both the sports sector and physical activities among the people, with a goal "to build a strong sports powerhouse." Experts say he aims to shed the country's image as one of the world's most impoverished nations and to create favorable public sentiment at home.
"The chances are slim that the senior North Korean officials will touch upon any political issues during their visit here," Yang added. "But it deserves attention if he brings any messages to the South and the international community which would thaw icy inter-Korean relations."
North Korea eyes a top-10 finish in the medal standings at the Asian Games. It will field Olympic gold medalists and world champions in Incheon, including Om Yun-chol and Kim Un-guk, a pair of reigning Olympic champs and world record-holders in men's weightlifting.
It is the third time that the communist country has participated in an international multisport event hosted by South Korea, after the 2002 Busan Asian Games and the 2003 Daegu Summer Universiade.