Pence tried to avoid North Korean officials, and got seated in front of them

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Mike Pence is in Pyeongchang today for the beginning of the 2018 Winter Olympics, and he’s been trying to make the most of the soft power show.

Despite widespread excitement about the unified Korean hockey team and North Korea’s large Olympic delegation, the US vice president has kept his distance from representatives of the isolated country. The BBC reports that Pence mostly blew off a dinner for VIPs, and noticeably snubbed Kim Yong Nam, North Korea’s long serving nominal head of state.

If anything, Pence has used his trip to show support for critics of the Kim regime. Earlier in the day, he met with North Korean defectors, as well as the parents of Otto Warmbier, an American who was imprisoned in North Korea and died shortly after his release.

But during the Olympic’s elaborate opening ceremonies, Pence found himself in an awkward position. Seated in a row with Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean president Moon Jae-in, he ended up almost directly in front of the previously snubbed Mr. Kim. Next to the North Korean diplomat was the sister of the country’s supreme leader, Kim Yo Jon.

After a day of gestures meant to illustrate the gulf between the two countries, which have recently sparred over missile testing, Pence did not look thrilled to be caught in a photo op with the high-ranking North Koreans. They reportedly did not interact.

Mike Pence, Karen Pence, Shinzo Abe, Kim Yong Nam, Kim Yo Jong
Vice president Mike Pence, second from bottom right, sits between second lady Karen Pence, third from from bottom left, and Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe at the opening ceremony of the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.
Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics
IOC president Thomas Bach, president of South Korea Moon Jae-in and US vice president Mike Pence attend the opening ceremony. (Reuters/Jorge Silva)
Kim Yong Nam, Kim Yo Jong, Mike Pence
Kim Yo Jong, top right, sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, sits alongside Kim Yong Nam, president of the Presidium of North Korean Parliament, and behind US vice president Mike Pence as she watches the opening ceremony of the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky/Pool)