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

Sunday Trust - - FOREIGN FEATURE - Source: www.ny­

that the of­fer might un­der­mine United Na­tions sanc­tions against the North’s nu­clear weapons and mis­sile pro­grams.

In Pyeongchang, South Ko­rea will pay for the joint uni­forms to be worn by ath­letes of both sides dur­ing the open­ing cer­e­mony, and foot the bill for hous­ing and feed­ing hun­dreds of North Ko­rean dancers and cul­tural en­ter­tain­ers who will per­form dur­ing the Games. How­ever, no money will go di­rectly to them, South Ko­rean of­fi­cials have said.

The North Kore­ans are also likely to be the only ath­letes not to re­ceive a free smart­phone from the Olympic spon­sor Sam­sung. South Ko­rean of­fi­cials said they were keen to dis­pel con­cerns, par­tic­u­larly in Wash­ing­ton, that they were mak­ing pay­ments to the North that could vi­o­late sanc­tions.

“We are try­ing to brief the Amer­i­cans so thor­oughly about ev­ery de­tail of mat­ters con­cern­ing sanc­tions and the North Ko­rean del­e­ga­tion that they get tired of hear­ing it,” said Cho My­oung-gyon, who as South Ko­rea’s uni­fi­ca­tion min­is­ter is in charge of deal­ings with the North.

The I.O.C. first urged North and South Ko­rean sports of­fi­cials to meet in 1963, a time when East and West Ger­many had cre­ated a joint Olympic squad. But the two Koreas could get no fur­ther than de­cid­ing that a hy­po­thet­i­cal joint squad would use a well-known Ko­rean folk song, “Ari­rang,” in­stead of pick­ing one of their na­tional an­thems.

They agreed to talk again be­fore the Los An­ge­les Olympics in 1984. But when they met on their shared bor­der, the heav­ily for­ti­fied demil­i­ta­rized zone, the talks quickly de­volved into mu­tual re­crim­i­na­tions. South Ko­rea de­manded that the North apol­o­gize for its bomb­ing of Mr. Chun’s pres­i­den­tial del­e­ga­tion in Burma the pre­vi­ous year, which killed 17 South Kore­ans, while North Ko­rea called Mr. Chun a “bloody-handed” dic­ta­tor for or­der­ing the mas­sacre of pro­test­ers in the city of Kwangju in 1980.

“It was noth­ing but a slan­der­ing match,” said Lim Tae-sun, 83, a for­mer South Ko­rean ne­go­tia­tor who was present at the meet­ing. “We hardly dis­cussed the real agenda.”

In 1985, the I.O.C. in­vited the two Koreas to Lausanne, Switzer­land, in an at­tempt to bro­ker an end to North Ko­rea’s bit­ter cam­paign against the 1988 Sum­mer Games awarded to Seoul. The North in­sisted on shar­ing the Games, ar­gu­ing that “host­ing of the Games by one part of the na­tion ag­gra­vated the an­tag­o­nism and di­vi­sion between the two peo­ples.”

It also made veiled threats, telling a vis­it­ing I.O.C. vice pres­i­dent that “any ac­ci­den­tal er­ror would have dis­as­trous ef­fects on the peace­ful cel­e­bra­tion of the Games.”

South Ko­rea coun­tered by of­fer­ing only a few events, like table ten­nis and archery, to the North. When North Ko­rea boy­cotted the 1988 Games, only a hand­ful of its al­lies, in­clud­ing Cuba, fol­lowed suit.

The first break­through came at the end of the Cold War, when the two Koreas agreed in 1991 to form a joint team for the World Table Ten­nis Cham­pi­onships in Chiba, Ja­pan.

Un­der the deal, the two gov­ern­ments agreed that the uni­fied team would use the name Ko­rea, and carry a blue-and-white flag show­ing an un­di­vided Ko­rean Penin­sula. The South also made a key con­ces­sion, agree­ing that each Ko­rea should con­trib­ute the same num­ber of play­ers.

The brief sports dé­tente came to an abrupt end that same year when a North Ko­rean at­tend­ing a judo cham­pi­onship in Barcelona, Spain, de­fected to South Ko­rea. The North re­ceded into deeper iso­la­tion dur­ing a dev­as­tat­ing famine.

In the late 1990s, South Ko­rea per­suaded the North to re­sume sports ex­changes with the help of eco­nomic aid from a pri­vate ci­ti­zen, Chung Ju-yung, the bil­lion­aire founder of South Ko­rea’s Hyundai con­glom­er­ate. In 1999, the two Koreas played friendly bas­ket­ball matches in Py­ongyang and Seoul af­ter ground was bro­ken for an arena Mr. Chung do­nated in the North Ko­rean cap­i­tal.

Sports ex­changes flour­ished as the two Koreas achieved a po­lit­i­cal rap­proche­ment dur­ing the early 2000s, when lib­eral ad­min­is­tra­tions in South Ko­rea pur­sued a Sun­shine Pol­icy of pro­mot­ing warmer ties backed by gen­er­ous of­fers of aid and in­vest­ment. The two Koreas marched to­gether in the Olympic open­ing cer­e­monies in 2000, 2004 and 2006.

But even dur­ing these years, a joint Olympic team re­mained out of reach. South Ko­rean ath­letes ob­jected to re­lin­quish­ing their hard-won spots. Coaches said the two Koreas re­mained just too far apart in think­ing, train­ing and abil­i­ties.

“I find it hard to imag­ine archers from the two Koreas com­pet­ing on the same team,” Seo Keo-won, an ex­ec­u­tive at the Ko­rea Archery As­so­ci­a­tion in Seoul, said at the time.

The sports diplo­macy froze in 2008 as a new con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment in Seoul lim­ited ties with the North, re­fus­ing to turn a blind eye to its weapons pro­grams. Talks to field a joint team at the Sum­mer Games that year in Bei­jing col­lapsed af­ter the South re­jected the North’s con­di­tion of equal num­bers of ath­letes.

This year’s deal came af­ter Mr. Moon, a po­lit­i­cal lib­eral who has ex­pressed ea­ger­ness to re­store in­ter-Ko­rean ex­changes, took of­fice last May. The North also showed flex­i­bil­ity in agree­ing to a joint squad in women’s hockey, one of the few win­ter team sports in which it com­petes.

The joint team was cre­ated by adding 12 North Kore­ans to the ex­ist­ing South Ko­rean na­tional team of 23 play­ers. The head coach is a Cana­dian ap­pointed by South Ko­rea, who must se­lect at least three North Kore­ans to play in each game.

South Ko­rean of­fi­cials say they did not prom­ise aid for the deal. But they did make one im­por­tant con­ces­sion: post­pon­ing joint mil­i­tary ex­er­cises with the United States.

“Sports ex­changes can pros­per only when po­lit­i­cal is­sues are re­solved,” said Chang Ung, a North Ko­rean mem­ber of the I.O.C., af­ter land­ing in Seoul this week. “That is an un­break­able rule on the di­vided Ko­rean Penin­sula.”

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