The idea of sharing the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Games with North Korea depends on progress in inter-Korean relations, Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae said.
Ryoo made the remark in the National Assembly Foreign Affairs-Unification Committee on Thursday in reply to a question from New Politics Alliance for Democracy lawmaker Shim Jae-kwon.
Shim asked Ryoo's opinion about the idea, which was mooted by the governor of Gangwon Province but met with anger by the organizing committee of the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.
Ryoo insisted the government is in principle determined to host the Games alone. But he added, "Seoul is not looking at inter-Korean relations in an inflexible way. There should be dialogue between the two sides as early as possible -- first of all if the Games are to be shared."
Gangwon Province Governor Choi Moon-soon on Dec. 4 suggested more or less symbolically sharing the games, perhaps letting the North host one or two events where venues don't take much time or cost much money to build, like snowboarding.
Late last year, the International Olympic Committee suggested sharing the games with "neighboring countries" as a way of curbing the ever-spiraling costs of the extravaganza, and preventing prohibitively expensive facilities from sitting idle afterwards.
The government has been opposed to the idea because the country earned the chance to host the Olympics alone after three attempts and because construction of the venues is already underway.
As a result, Ryoo's remark immediately stirred up controversy, and the ministry later issued a press release, saying he "only reaffirmed the government's principle that inter-Korean relations should be improved and that dialogue should resume. He did not suggest that sharing the Games is possible. The government is considering no such thing at the moment."
Meanwhile, Ryoo said there is "no reason to avoid" behind-the-scenes talks with North Korea if the chance arises.