South Korea Use Olympics to Ease Tensions With North Korea
North Korea accepted South Korea’s request to send athletes to the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea on Tuesday. Although North Korea has competed in the Summer Olympics since 1972, the country has not participated in the Winter Games in eight years.
In the midst of escalating tensions, North and South Korean officials held talks on Tuesday in Panmunjom to discuss a variety of topics, including the Olympics.
South Korea requested for North Korea to send a delegation to the Winter Olympics and also proposed that the two Korean teams march together during the Olympics Opening Ceremony.
The International Olympic Committee has been enthusiastic about North Korea’s attendance in the 2018 Winter Olympics. President of the I.O.C., Thomas Bach, has prioritized North Korea’s participation in the Winter Olympics, calling North Korea’s decision as “a great step forward in the Olympic spirit.”
The I.O.C has gone as far as to offer to help cover North Korea athletes’ expenses for the Games.
Many see North Korea’s decision as a step towards further negotiations and diplomacy between North Korea and the rest of the world.
Chun Hae-Sung, the vice minister of unification in South Korea, said “We told them that both sides should cooperate based on mutual respect and end any acts of raising tensions on the Korean Peninsula.” South Korea also used the opportunity in Panmunjom to discuss the temporary reunion of Korean families who have been separated since the Korean War.
The South Korean presidency of Moon Jae-In has been a strong proponent of dialogue with North Korea and explained how North Korea will be less likely to conduct a nuclear or missile test during the Olympics if North Korean athletes are attending.
In 1987, North Korean agents placed a bomb aboard a Korean Air flight in opposition to the 1988 Summer Olympic Games held in Seoul. All the 115 people abroad were killed. In addition, in 2002, North Korea provoked a naval skirmish with South Korea on the day South Korea played a match for third place for the 2002 World Cup held in South Korea.
In spite of past events, “Pyongyang can achieve the same goal it’s achieved through other sporting engagements in the past,” explains Christopher Green, an adviser for the International Crisis Group and expert in the politics of sports on the Korean peninsula. “[People] will see North Korean sportsmen and -women coming to South Korea and gain a better impression of North Korean society as a result.”
People are hoping that the Winter Olympics could create some time to ease the increasing tensions between North Korea and the United States on North Korea’s nuclear development program.