▲ The South Korean hockey team faced North Korea in April 2017. Photo courtesy Korea.net.
The recent decision reached by delegations from both North and South Korea for the two countries to march together at the opening ceremony of the upcoming Winter Olympic Games, set to get underway in Pyeongchang next month, could have far-ranging consequences.
On one hand, there is heaping praise for the seeming thaw in relations between the two rivals on the peninsula. Some contend it to be good opportunity to resume, or to put in a better context, to normalize, relations after the considerable turmoil they went through in 2017.
On the other, some see it as a ploy to weaken the policy position towards the North. In essence, to manufacture a split between South Korea and its regional allies and the United States.
The agreement was reached following meetings last month in the Panmunjon.
Should it go ahead, it will not be the first time that the two countries have marched together at the Games. They also did so at the Winter Games in Turin back in 2006.
Plans for joint hockey team prove controversial
Adding to the growing controversy is a planned initiative by President Moon to integrate the South and North Korean women’s hockey team. This is a plan that has drawn ire from both the players and the head coach of the South Korean team.
“Our players were really nervous,” said coach of the South Korean team Sarah Murray as the team trained in the United States last month.
“We can only take 23 players to the Olympics and they thought these North Koreans are going to come in and take our spots.”
There is also concern amongst the players that a dip in team chemistry because of the newly added players from the North would greatly affect their chances of winning a medal in the competition.
According to a recent report in the Los Angeles Times, protests were held in Seoul lobbying against North Korea’s involvement as part of a “unified” team.
While President Moon hails the opportunity as a “miraculously earned” chance at relieving tensions between the neighbors, others, such as Bong Young-shik, a visiting research fellow at Yonsei University, said that “we have seen this all before” in reference to attempts at Korean solidarity, adding that “nothing lasted.”
News sources in the North also allege that conservative forces in the South are doing everything in their power to disrupt what is seen as the opening of a door to better relations following years of diplomatic strife.
They contend that the South has the most to gain from North Korea’s involvement in the Games.
How will North Korea act during the games?
There are also heightened concerns as members of a North Korean delegation led by Hyon Song-wol, leader of the Samjiyon Orchestra, came to South Korea to inspect potential concert venues for the troupe.
It has been decided that they will perform at the Gangneung Arts Centre, one of the Olympic venues on Feb. 8 and the National Theatre of Korea in Seoul on Feb. 11.
And, as if alarm bells have not been set off by those opposed to the move, it was announced recently that North Korea could potentially stage another military parade on the eve of the Games to commemorate the founding of its military forces in 1948.
There is a great possibility that the North will once again showcase the advances made in its development of nuclear weapons.
Several countries had voiced their concern over a potential North Korean threat during the Games in the last few months of last year, with high profile winter sport countries such as Germany, Austria, and France saying they would potentially not participate in Pyeongchang due to heightened security concerns.
Whatever the case, while it may seem on the surface that inter-Korean relations have taken a step in the right direction, approaching with caution would remain the best course of action. It also remains to be seen what sort of response will be generated once the Games are underway.
With the world set to arrive on the peninsula in about two weeks time, all eyes will be trained on the region perhaps now more than ever before.
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