North and South Korea United in Olympic Detente

Marwa Hameed, Editor

North and South Korean athletes will march united under a pro-unification flag at the Winter Olympics opening ceremony next month. The news came from South Korea in what is seen as a diplomatic breakthrough after days of talks in the border village of Panmunjom. This will be the first time in 11 years that their athletes will stand side by side with each other.

Although the agreements need the approval of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), who will meet on the 20th in to discuss the proposal, this big move marks a significant shift in years of broken communications. While some see it as signs of a diplomatic thaw, others voiced concern that NorthKorea may take advantage of the situation, buying time to further engage in its weapons program. Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono, at the summit discussing North Korean activities in Vancouver on Tuesday, stated that he believes “North Korea wants to buy some time to continue their nuclear and missile programs. It’s not the time to ease pressure towards North Korea.” China, on the other hand, denounced the talks in Vancouver, stating that such thinking demonstrated in the talks would only harm the efforts to solve the nuclear issue going on in the Korean peninsula.

If the IOC does vote to approve the plans agreed upon by the North and South Koreans, it will mean the opening of the border road so the North Korean delegation can cross into South Korea for the games. Other than the agreed use of the unified flag of the Korean Peninsula, the two countries will have a joint team for women’s ice hockey, marking the first time athletes from both countries will compete under the same team. North Korea has also agreed to send a smaller delegation to the Paralympics in March.

With the approval of the IOC come much bigger hurdles as South Korea will need to find a way to host the North Koreans at the Olympics without breaching the sanction the United Nations has in place, blacklisting certain North Korean officials and barring money transfers to Pyongyang. This rare moment of Olympic peace between North and South Korea represents a slither of hope in a time of crisis for the Korean Peninsula. But, does this chance really offer a platform for a diplomatic solution or is it a fleeting blunder that is a lull from the ongoing fight between North Korea and the United States? The Olympic detente does not deter the serious reality of the ongoing armed conflict, but it leaves room to wonder if the thaw will turn into a very sudden freeze once again.

South Korean Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon, right, shakes hands with the head of North Korean delegation Ri Son Gwon during their meeting at the Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone in Paju, South Korea. (via the Associated Press, for editorial use only)