Paved with various political controversies, the start of the 23rd edition of the Winter Olympics brought many ongoing questions to light. With security concerns voiced by France, Germany and the US toward the end of 2017 as a result of North Korea’s nuclear programme, the event was viewed with skepticism and as a spark for controversy. As such, I decided to look at the timeline of political events in parallel to this year’s Olympic event with the aim of answering whether South and North Korean relations are on the path to improvement, or not.
More than 30 years ago, South Korea was hosting the Olympic Games for the first time. With a booming economy, the “Asian tiger” was ready to showcase the rapid development of its capital city, Seoul. However, the news was not well received by its neighbor. With less than 35 years since the separations, relations between the two Korean states were colder than ever and the competition between the them was heated. Thus, North Korea proposed to co-host the summer Olympics, and when the initiative was declined by the IOC (International Olympic Committee) the rivalry sparked. Unfortunately, in 1987 the Air Korea Flight 858 was taken down by a bomb, causing the death of 115 people. Therefore, the ’88 Olympics ended with North Korea not participating at all, lost lives and an even more unstable relationship between the two countries. But the situation is a lot brighter this year.
On the 9th of February 2018, South Korea is hosting the highly anticipated sports event for the second time. Fortunately, the flow of events seemed to have gone in a different direction, especially concerning the relations in the Korean Peninsula. At the beginning of January Kim Jong-un( North Korea’s leader) proposed diplomatic talks over the participation of North Korea at the Olympics. It came to a shock when on the 17th of January, the countries announced a singular delegation, which was to march under a Unified Korean Flag. The news was largely unexpected as last year’s relations seemed tenser than ever. The short-run improvement was a relief for many, and it seems to have allowed the Olympics to happen without large political controversies.
At the opening ceremony, the North and South Korean delegations walking side by side was a moment of hope for many and the first start to better international relations. Thus, it appears that president’s Moon Jae-in’s campaign promises of improving relations within the peninsula are starting to come to tangible facts.
Since Trump’s election, the G-zero world has forced countries, such as South Korea, to take initiative into their own hands. As America is slowly drifting into isolation it is likely that Moon will try to come to an armistice with Pyongyang. This year’s Olympic Games might have acted as a platform for a plan that was already thought through.
As bright as the future might seem on the official’s side, the people are far from being united. This underlines the unsustainability of the short-term improvement. Once South Korea announced the unified female hockey team, there was great general unrest. The situation is even worse as the young people were the ones most vocal about it, raising a clear division among the two nations. As the future of the country, their reluctance to adhere to Moon’s idea of nationalism poses a real and long-term problem, which is unlikely to be solved in a matter of weeks. The situation is further exacerbated by the little consideration to Kim Jong-un’s unpredictability. It is important to remember that just a month ago the leader was reinforcing the reality of North Korea’s nuclear weapons.
All in all, the initial question does not seem to have a definite answer. With the same language and cultural heritage that the two countries share, the hope of better relations is strongly justified. It seems hard to comprehend the division between so many families that the spheres of political influence have created. It is hard to determine whether the time for unity can be seen upon the horizon. The lack of transparency from North Korea and the many South Korean sources give us half of the larger picture. But, unity is driven by the people, and a stronger cooperation between the two countries is frowned upon by many at the present moment. As the Olympic mascot for this year, the white tiger, South Korea still stands alone. However, this might not be the same tomorrow.