The inclusion of an all-singing, all-dancing Olympic cheer-leading squad as a key element of the most significant diplomatic breakthrough on the Korean Peninsula in two years may, at first, seem like an odd choice for two countries who are still technically at war.

But the role of cheerleaders, chosen on the basis of their beauty and loyalty to the regime has, in the past, been an important political tool for North Korea as it seeks to manipulate its image to the outside world during major sports events.

The presence of a cheering squad in a high level North Korean delegation to Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in South Korea in February was announced on Tuesday during the first talks between the countries since December 2015.

Aware of the propaganda value of the regime’s most attractive women performing choreographed moves in the stadiums, North Korea’s state-controlled media has, in the past, crowed about southerners being captivated by the “squads of beauty.”

In a sign of the high esteem placed on the job, Ri Sol-ju, now the wife of North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un, was reportedly a member of a 101-strong cheer-leading squad at the 2005 Asian Athletics Championships in Incheon, South Korea, when she was just 16.

Typically, cheerleaders have been about 20 years old, and selected from a good family background, although not generally from high-ranking families, and are often plucked from among university or music school students.

The tradition began in 2002 during the Asian Games in Busan, a South Korean port city, and the squads were popular entertainment at several other high profile sporting events until they became the centre of a political spat between the North and South at the 17th Asian Games in 2014.

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