North Korean Participates in the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics: Hope for the Future?

Daphne Tang ‘19

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Throughout the centuries, the Winter Olympics has united the hearts and minds of the international community in the spirit of athleticism. As Yuna Kim, an internationally renowned figure-skater from South Korea, lighted the Olympic cauldron, thunderous applause erupted from the 35,000 spectators in the stadium. The 2018 Winter Olympics hosted in Pyeongchang, South Korea reflected a remarkable change in the relationship between the communist and democratic governments that inhabit the Korean Peninsula.

As North Korea expanded its nuclear arsenal and launched test missiles over Japan and South Korea, tensions flared and apprehension gripped the international community. Donald Trump, in particular, expressed an acute willingness to explore the nuclear option by tweeting that “I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than [Kim Jong Un’s].” Communist regimes, such as Russia and China, condemned the nuclear tests as violations of the international code. When Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and President Emmanuel Macron of France denounced North Korea’s blatant disregard for the wishes of the international community, discussions of imposing harsher sanctions arose in frequency.

Thus, the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics represented an invaluable opportunity for the rest of the world to alleviate tensions with North Korea. Although a pair of figure skaters, Ryom Tae-ok and Kim Ju-sik, qualified to participate in the competition, North Korea’s Olympic Committee did not register their athletes by the October 30, 2017 deadline. During Kim Jong Un’s address on New Years, however, he raised the possibility of sending athletes to compete in the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics. Eager to mitigate the threat of a North Korean assault during the games, South Korea immediately began negotiations. On January 9, 2017, North Korea proclaimed that it would participate. In the opening ceremony, competitors from North Korea and South Korea paraded together under the Korean Unification Flag. A total of ten athletes from the autocratic regime competed, with three in alpine skiing, three in cross-country skiing, two in figure skating, and two in short track speed skating. In a show of unity, North Korea and South Korea also formed a women’s ice hockey team that represented the entire Korean peninsula in the games.

Although North Korea did not win any medals in the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, its participation symbolized an important turning point in its relations with the rest of the world. While North Korea continues to expand its nuclear arsenal, it was willing to demonstrate unity with South Korea. Jennifer Huang ‘18 comments that “The games serve an important purpose by decreasing animosity between the two countries. The relationship is nowhere near healed, but perhaps a broader peace can be reached.” Kevin Tang ‘20 also mentions that “although global tensions continue to rise, this is a hopeful sign for the future.” North Korea will not cease its creation of nuclear weapons, but perhaps it will become open to negotiations because it has revoked its unbudging resistance to participation in the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.

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