The 2018 Winter Olympics and North Korean involvement

The 2018 Winter Olympics will be held in Pyeongchang County, South Korea. The Winter Olympics are an international multi-sport competition held once every four years in a different country. They are staggered with the Summer Olympics, which are also held once every four years, so that an Olympic Games occurs once every two years. It was first announced that South Korea would host in 2011. It will be the country’s second time hosting the Olympics. It hosted the Summer Games in 1988 (Olympic.org).

As reported by CNN, the 2018 Winter Olympics has brought about great controversy for North Korea’s involvement in it. North Korea (officially called the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, or DPRK) and South Korea separated in 1945. Shortly after the separation, the Korean War occurred (1950-1953), which ended in stalemate. Since then, the two Koreas have been separated by a demilitarized zone (DMZ). According to Sky News, relations between the countries has been tense, to say the least. North Korea is a communist dictatorship and South Korea is a liberal democracy, diametrically opposed types of government, but both claim rightful leadership of Korea in totality.

North Korea has been performing nuclear weapons tests since 2006 (most recently on September 3, 2017, “a perfect success,” according to the North Koreans), much to the consternation of South Korea and many Western democracies, including the United States, as noted by the BBC. Delegates from North and South Korea met for peace talks on September, 9, but North Korea continued to test its ballistic missiles afterwards. CNN has even reported that South Korea claims to have a plan to assassinate North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un if they feel too threatened.

So, with the threat of nuclear war looming, many wondered how South Korea would handle the 2018 Winter Olympics, and what North Korea’s involvement in them would be. Fortunately, it appears that the Olympics have only helped to bring the two countries closer together.

In his 2017 New Year address, Kim Jong Un wished the South Koreans luck in hosting the Games, offered to send a North Korean delegation, and said he wished for a “peaceful resolution with our Southern border [DMZ]” (CNN). Two North Korean figure skaters, Ryom Tae-ok and Kim Ju-sik, qualified for the Olympics on September, 29, but were not entered by the deadline of December, 21. According to an NRP report, after negotiations between the two Koreas on January 9, it was announced that North Korea would send a delegation of 22 athletes, including the two aforementioned figure skaters. In addition, there will be a united Korean squad playing in women’s ice hockey. North Korea’s involvement in the 2018 Winter Olympics could be a sign of more diplomacy to come between the two Koreas and the rest of the world.

But, not everyone is happy with North Korea’s involvement in the Olympics. According to The Telegraph, some human rights groups think that allowing North Korea to hold any events, as the South Korean minister of sports has gone so far as to recommend, would be an immoral endorsement of authoritarianism, similar to the 1936 Berlin Olympics held in Nazi Germany. The Wall Street Journal has also reported that some see North Korea’s participation as unsafe. France said they would not compete if safety could not be ensured according to Reuters. The Trump-appointed, US Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, said, “it’s an open question.” Later, White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders said on December, 7, “no official decision has been made” on US involvement in the Games, though she, quite contradictory, also said the US “looks forward to participating” as reported by USA Today.

Whether the US will boycott the 2018 Winter Olympics remains to be seen, but it now appears quite unlikely, with the announcement, reported by ABC News, on January, 10, that Vice President Mike Pence and his wife will attend the opening ceremony of the Games. Still, the Trump administration’s messages are mixed. Is North Korea’s newfound sense of diplomacy genuine, or just a ploy?

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