Two Koreas, split by war, use Olympics to make rare show of unity

Sunday Trust - - FOREIGN FEATURE -

The first time South Ko­rea hosted an Olympics - in 1988 in its cap­i­tal, Seoul - the In­ter­na­tional Olympic Com­mit­tee in­vited North Ko­rea to talks in ad­vance. The North Kore­ans showed up with a list of de­mands.

They not only in­sisted that half the events be held in Py­ongyang, the North Ko­rean cap­i­tal, but they also wanted top billing, press­ing for the Games to be re­named the Py­ongyang-Seoul Sum­mer Olympics, with the open­ing cer­e­mony in Py­ongyang. When South Ko­rea said no, the North Kore­ans re­fused to at­tend.

“If one gives one fin­ger to North Ko­rea, they will take the whole hand,” the South Ko­rean leader, Chun Doo-hwan, told the I.O.C. pres­i­dent, Juan An­to­nio Sa­ma­ranch, in 1986.

It’s a dif­fer­ent pic­ture three decades later, as South Ko­rea pre­pares to host its sec­ond Olympics. The North Kore­ans are not only join­ing, their ath­letes will also march with the South Kore­ans in the open­ing cer­e­mony and com­pete side by side in the Koreas’ first joint Olympic team, in women’s ice hockey.

The turn­around un­der­scores the changed role that the Olympics have come to play in the tense re­la­tions between the two Koreas, which never signed a peace treaty to end the 1950-53 Ko­rean War. For years, the ri­val Koreas used the Games to show­case their com­pet­ing claims to rep­re­sent the Ko­rean peo­ple, and try to one up each other.

More re­cently, how­ever, the North and South have come to see in­ter­na­tional sport­ing events as a chance to defuse ten­sions, in­clud­ing the cur­rent stand­off over North Ko­rea’s nu­clear weapons and bal­lis­tic mis­sile pro­grams. The two Koreas have also learned to use Olympic diplo­macy to achieve in a small, sym­bolic way a much big­ger goal that eludes them in the real world: a show of unity across the di­vided Ko­rean Penin­sula.

“It is not an im­pos­si­ble dream,” South Ko­rea’s pres­i­dent, Moon Jae-in, said at the United Na­tions in Septem­ber. He said the com­ing Olympics, which are be­ing held in the South Ko­rean re­sort of Pyeongchang, “will be­come a can­dle that sheds light on peace.”

Even the lim­ited show of co­op­er­a­tion dur­ing the Pyeongchang Olympics is the cul­mi­na­tion of a long process of sports rap­proche­ment that has tracked the ups and downs of the larger po­lit­i­cal re­la­tion­ship between the two Koreas. No ev­i­dence has sur­faced of the wealthy South pay­ing off its im­pov­er­ished neigh­bor in ex­change for Olympic co­op­er­a­tion, but the ad­vances have come at times when the South was more forth­com­ing with aid and in­vest­ment.

Last year, the ad­min­is­tra­tion of Mr. Moon of­fered to do­nate $8 mil­lion to two United Na­tions hu­man­i­tar­ian pro­grams work­ing in North Ko­rea. Mr. Moon sus­pended the plan af­ter in­ter­na­tional push­back


Joint Win­ter Olympic team for North, South Ko­rea met with back­lash CFOX

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