By Gabrielle Goldworm
The 2018 Winter Olympics began on February 9, and with its arrival has come the usual concerns about security, the usual suspicions about cheating or “doping”, and the usual sense of excitement that comes with seeing athletes from around the world come together to preform incredible feats. But this winter Olympics has brought special attention to itself, due to an announcement made by North and South Korean officials in early January stating that the two nations intended to march together during this year’s opening ceremony in Pyeongchang. Additionally, The Independent reports that the two nations agreed to enter a woman’s hockey team made up of athletes from both sides. The announcement came as something of a surprise to many in the international community, coming in the aftermath of a year fraught with diplomatic tensions between North Korea and several other states, including its southern counterpart.
North Korea’s attendance at the 2018 games is not in and of itself unusual; the hermit kingdom has been a regular participant in many international sporting events, and its athletes have brought home 56 Olympic Medals, according to BBC, 16 of which are gold, but only two of which are from prior winter games. In a country where national image is highly prized, international events like the Olympics tend to come with a tremendous amount of pressure for the nations and athletes involved. According to the BBC, North Korean citizens are allowed to watch the games, but rarely is anything broadcast live, and results are often doctored or not aired at all if the outcome is unfavorable. During the 2014 Summer Games, a football match between the North and South saw a North Korean loss, and the results are reportedly still not available to North Korean citizens.
According to media outlets such as CNN, the BBC, and the New York Times, North Korea is not expected to take home any medals during this year’s games, but winning may not be their first priority. Their agreement with the South to present a united front during the opening ceremony, send 400 delegates to the games, including Kim Yo Jong, the younger sister of North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un, and form a united hockey team, are seen by some as a simple propaganda ploy, as The New York Times reports. Vice President Mike Pence warned against the “normalization of North Korea”, heavily implying that sanctions against them would hold firm, and stating the U.S. “will not allow the North Korean regime to highjack messaging of the Olympics with propaganda”, according to CNN. He was notably absent at a dinner held by President Moon Jae-in, to which he and Kim Yo Jong had been invited. Supporters of this platform received more reason to doubt North Korean intentions when a massive parade displaying North Korean missiles was held on February 8, also reported by CNN .
Despite this, South Korean officials appear hopeful for renewed diplomatic ties to the North. President Moon is a strong supporter of better foreign relations between the two states, and hopes that the games may present further opportunities for dialogue. Whatever feelings all those involved may be having at the moment, and whatever the future holds for negotiations between the two, the image of North and South Koreans marching together under a flag displaying a united Korea is a history-defining sight.