Olympic Diplomacy Across the Korean Peninsula

- 2A Mechanical
Posted on: January 20, 2018

In a surprising turn of attitude, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has expressed a clear desire to open peace talks with South Korea during his New Year’s address to the nation. Inter-Korean peace talks began on Tuesday, Jan 9, and marked the first time in two years that the two governments held any formal correspondence.

Issues discussed at these meeting did not include North Korea’s nuclear program, which was brought up by the South but quickly shut down by the North, but rather heavily focused on the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics set to commence on Feb 9 in South Korea. The North agreed on sending a large team of athletes and a cheerleading squad to Pyeongchang next month, marking their return to involvement with the winter Olympics after eight years of absence. In return, the South proposed that the two Korean teams walk into the Olympic area together during opening ceremonies, a powerful sign of unity.

Also resulting from the discussion were agreements to hold future meetings to reduce military tensions along the DMZ and the re-establishment of a military hotline between the two countries. The South Korean delegation called the North to end its nuclear program. The North Korean delegation did not comply but said that its “nuclear weapons are aimed at the US” and not at its brethren in South Korea.

Plenty of speculation has arisen concerning the sudden shift in North Korean attitude, although a consensus has been reached among most political analysts that President Donald Trump is partially responsible. Some, including South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in, believe that Trump’s hardline rhetoric against Kim Jong Un has pressured the Hermit Kingdom to come to the meeting table. Some believe that the supreme leader might be attempting to seem more reasonable, in the eyes of the world, than his US counterpart, given Trump’s warhawk threats to “totally destroy” North Korea if provoked.

Regardless, diplomacy through sports is not an unheard-of occurrence. Looking back at the early 1970’s, formal relations between the United States and the People’s Republic of China began though ping-pong diplomacy, where members of the US Table Tennis team were invited to Communist China to play against the host nation’s team. This paved the way for talks between Beijing and Washington after nearly two decades of Cold War tensions, culminating in Richard Nixon’s visit to Beijing in 1972, making him the first US president to step foot in China since the Communist Revolution in 1949.

The two Koreas have been in a state of war since 1950, never having formally signed a peace treaty to end the Korean War. Desires for reunification have been present since then but relations have fluctuated over time, deteriorating recently due to advancements in the North’s nuclear missile program and the election of Donald Trump in 2016. With the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics starting in early February, perhaps the wonder of sports can bring unity to a divided Korean peninsula.

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