Why have North and South Korea stopped marching together at the Olympics?

Why have North and South Korea stopped marching together at the Olympics?

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In the 2000 Sydney Olympics, we saw the teams of North and South Korea marching together. This was repeated for the 2004 and 2006 (Winter) Olympics.

This didn't happen in 2008 (and we can understand that the relationship between Korea and China is very sensitive, so we allow them some diplomacy.) But in 2012 in London they didn't march together.

So I'm wondering - what is going on? Have they stopped now?

My question is: Why have North and South Korea stopped marching together at the Olympics?

Because it was decided that the two teams would compete separately.

Originally, there were hopes for the two teams to not only march as one in the 2008 Olympics, but to compete as a single entity, a 'Korea' team. However, negotiations failed, and the two teams ended up marching separately as a result.

Since then, there have been several diplomatic incidents between the two countries, and due to the changed relationship, it is unlikely we will see them marching together again for the foreseeable future.

The link is deprecated, but it roughly says:

The flag was not used in the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, China due to the decision made by the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games (BOCOG) and the International Olympic Committee (IOC), that the two teams would enter separately. The two countries also marched separately at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. North Korea did not participate in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

The flag mentioned is the Korean Unification Flag, which looks like this:

A Divided Germany Came Together for the Olympics Decades Before Korea Did

At the opening ceremonies of the XXIII Olympic Winter Games, on February 9, 2018, something spectacular happened: Athletes from North and South Korea, which have been bitterly divided for 73 years, marched beneath a unified flag. Though North and South appear no closer to reunification, the move was seen as an olive branch of sorts that could pave the way for better relations between the estranged countries𠅊nd it’s just one example of how the worldwide sporting event can bring people together, if only for a few weeks.

It’s not the first time a divided nation has come together as one Olympic team. From 1956 through 1964, East and West Germany unified as a single team—until heightened political tensions tore the athletic programs apart.

At the end of World War II, the Olympics couldn’t be further from the minds of the German people. Their country had been decimated during the war, and in 1945, after Germany surrendered, the Allies split the country into four occupation zones. There was work to do: Not only did the Allies਎ndeavor to root out Nazism from the remaining population, they also had to deal with millions of displaced persons, whose homes and families had been destroyed during the war and the Holocaust, and stabilize Germany’s collapsed economy.

In 1949, the western Allies𠅏rance, the United Kingdom and the United States𠅊llowed their zones to self-govern, and the Federal Republic of Germany was born. Meanwhile, the USSR took over the eastern half of Germany and created the German Democratic Republic, a communist state. As daily life slowly normalized, both nations, which had been banned from competing in the 1948 games, began to look forward to the Olympic Games of 1952, 1956 and beyond.

Road blocks from the Russian-American sector boundary in Germany, 1949. (Credit: Keystone/Getty Images)

The games meant similar things to both countries. They symbolized a celebration of the return of normal life, the end of a destructive war, and recognition of two new nations. But East and West Germany distrusted one another, and the Western world felt that to recognize an East German team would be to normalize and even celebrate the growth of Communism during the Cold War. To make matters even more complicated, East Germany was only recognized diplomatically by Eastern bloc countries.

West Germany set up its own National Olympic Committee, which was admitted into the International Olympic Committee in 1951 on the condition that Germany apologize for its wartime atrocities. But when East Germany tried to do the same thing, nearly simultaneously, it provoked political tensions. The IOC rejected the East Germans’ claim for an Olympic Committee on the basis that Germany already had one, and finally struck a compromise in which the East Germans could compete𠅋ut only if they did so under a unified team.

At first, East Germany refused, and did not compete in the 1952 games. (West Germany did, and brought home seven silver and 17 bronze medals.) East Germany grudgingly decided to join the West German team in a combined team in 1955, with the intention of competing in the 1956 games. “We have obtained in the field of sport what politicians have failed to achieve so far,” said Avery Brundage, the IOC president.

Opening of the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne. (Credit: Ullstein Bild/Getty Images)

The German teams may have been unified in name, but they had some serious tensions to overcome. Some were relatively easy to address, like the question of which national anthem to use. Both countries decided to set aside their national anthems in favor of the “Ode to Joy” from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. Lodgings were easy to solve, too: Both countries stayed in the same quarters in the Olympic Village, and granted one another visas for training.

During the 1956 Winter Games, the unified team came away with a gold and a bronze, and in the summer games that same year, it won six gold medals, 13 silvers and seven bronzes.

But in 1959, tensions boiled over, as both countries bickered over which flag to compete under for the upcoming Summer Olympics in Rome. Initially, the athletes had competed under the former flag of united Germany, but that year East Germany introduced a flag that included the traditional German flag with the addition of a hammer and compass surrounded by a ring of rye. The flag had deep significance within the communist country—it represented the workers, farmers and intelligentsia. But to West Germany, it was a perversion of their national symbol.

The IOC tried to broker a compromise, making both teams march under the old flag with Olympic rings on it. Though both countries’ Olympic committees approved the plan, West Germany’s government complained about the potential of West German athletes marching under anything but the old flag. They threatened to pull West Germany from the 1960 games altogether.

The GDR (German Democratic Republic) team holding the flag featuring the hammer and compass surrounded by a ring of rye. As a separate team, they marched with this version of the flag at the 1972 opening ceremony. (Credit: Werner Schulze/Ullstein Bild via Getty Images)

“Should 53,000,000 Germans let themselves be blackmailed by a regime that is not even a legitimate democracy?” asked a spokesperson for German chancellor Konrad Adenauer’s party at the time.

Finally, the West German government capitulated and marched under the compromise flag suggested by the IOC, but the issue led to ongoing tension. So did the matter of visas: During the 1960 Winter Games in Squaw Valley, California, the United States denied several East German team members visas due to its ongoing lack of diplomatic relations with East Germany—meaning the athletes could not compete. And in 1961, the building of the Berlin Wall made things even worse. West Germany began to refuse visas to East German athletes, and East Germany retaliated. The West German sporting association also started forbidding East Germans from competing in its national competitions and prevented West Germans from going to the GDR to compete. The tense truce between East and West began to disintegrate.

Then, in 1968, the IOC recognized East Germany’s claim for a national committee. This was the beginning of the end for the combined team. Both teams began to compete separately, but still marched together during the opening ceremony under the compromise flag. But in 1972, the Olympics were held in Munich, West Germany𠅊nd the GDR competed with its own team and national anthem on what was, by then, enemy ground. East Germany flooded the press with negative reactions to the very idea of the games being hosted in West Germany, including implying that West Germany was still a Nazi state. The country even lobbied to prevent the Olympic torch from going through the USSR and its ally states. It failed—so it focused on performing well at the games instead.

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The Olympics’ promotion of world peace has always been more of an aspiration than an actuality. George Orwell had a point when he complained about the fierce nationalism aroused by international sports contests. But the Olympics are at least predicated on peaceful competition and playing by the rules (see: the Olympic Athletes from Russia). And while North Korean athletes might well exhibit, as the head of the International Olympic Committee put it, how to “live together in peace, respect, and harmony,” their leaders have not. The last time South Korea hosted the Olympics, in 1988, the North Korean government tried to spoil the Games before they began by blowing up a South Korean airplane and its 115 passengers. This time—in violation of United Nations resolutions and international law and norms—the North Korean government has spent the past year test-firing ballistic missiles that can target the whole world, testing a nuclear weapon 17 times more powerful than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, killing off Kim Jong Un’s half-brother with a chemical weapon in a Malaysian airport, and threatening to “sink” Japan and reduce the United States to “ashes.” Yet here was the North Korean Olympic team, at the peak of festivities in Pyeongchang, basking in the spotlight.

There are good reasons to applaud North Korea’s presence at this year’s Olympics. The country’s participation—prompted by an overture in a New Year’s speech in which Kim Jong Un also happened to threaten nuclear war—makes a North Korean provocation or act of aggression during the competition unlikely saber-rattling quieted in the lead-up to the Games, with North Korea holding off on weapons tests and the United States and South Korea postponing joint military exercises. The North’s involvement in the Games has, in South Korean President Moon Jae In’s words, served to “warm solidly frozen South-North ties,” resulting in direct talks and the reopening of a communications hotline between the two sides. At the Opening Ceremony, Moon made history by shaking hands with Kim Yong Nam, North Korea’s head of state, and Kim Yo Jong, Kim Jong Un’s sister and the first member of North Korea’s ruling family to visit South Korea. (When terrorism failed to disrupt the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, North Korea boycotted the event.)

But we’ve seen this Opening Ceremony before. Nine times before, to be precise. The North and South Koreans have marched in unison at nine previous international athletic competitions, beginning with the 2000 Olympics in Australia. Just months after a major summit between the leaders of North and South Korea, their respective teams strode out into the Opening Ceremony in Sydney in matching uniforms to the tune of “Arirang” and rapturous applause from the crowd. (Sound familiar?) Behind the pretty picture was a messy story, the Korea analyst Bruce Klingner recalled at a recent Olympics briefing organized by the Center for the National Interest: North Korea had insisted that South Korea pay for its uniforms and reduce the number of South Korean marchers so that the North Koreans wouldn’t be outnumbered. The South Korean government meanwhile had secretly paid the Kim regime hundreds of millions of dollars to attend the earlier summit.

The North and South repeated the show of solidarity at the 2006 Olympics in Italy, only for North Korea to test its first nuclear weapon eight months later. They did it again during the 2014 Asian Games in South Korea, only for the North and South to exchange fire over the border days after the contest ended.

Klingner compared North Korea’s latest Olympian olive branch to a Trojan horse: “It’s like the security guard at the gates of the Olympic camp is radioing back to headquarters saying, ‘The North Koreans are pushing this large wooden horse.’ And you’re like, ‘Again?.’”

Most South Koreans support North Korean participation in the Pyeongchang Games. But Moon Jae In’s more compliant decisions to gather Koreans under a unification flag for the Opening Ceremony and especially to create a combined Korean women’s ice-hockey team—which means a number of South Korean hockey players will be forced to cede ice time to their new North Korean teammates, at least three of whom must dress for every game—are less popular. (South and North Korean athletes will compete separately in all other sports.) The South Korean government has also been criticized for joining the International Olympic Committee in paying the North Korean delegation’s expenses. Conservative opponents of Moon, who tend to be more resistant to engagement with the North than Moon’s liberal wing, now ridicule the Games as the “Pyongyang Olympics,” in a reference to North Korea’s capital. The rebuttal is that desperate times call for less-than-ideal Olympics. The joint Opening Ceremony entrance and hockey team “aren’t about handing the Olympics over to North Korea,” an editorial in the South Korean newspaper Hankyoreh argued. “They are a crucial effort to sustain the mood for talks about denuclearization even after the Olympics.”

Even if the costs of these concessions are worth the benefits—such as a literally peaceful Olympics and a de-escalation of tensions on the Korean peninsula—the benefits will probably be short-lived, according to Andrew Bertoli, a research fellow at Dartmouth College who studies the relationship between international sports, nationalism, and interstate conflict. In the most extreme example, Adolf Hitler soft-pedaled his racism and militarism during the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, only to soon initiate World War II and the Holocaust. Vladimir Putin waited until just after the Sochi Olympics to intervene militarily in Ukraine. “We shouldn’t fall for the temptation to see this short-term warming effect as an indication that these sporting events are actually leading to any type of long-term improvements in the behavior of these countries,” Bertoli explained recently on the Global Dispatches podcast.

North Korea’s long-term objectives with respect to the Pyeongchang Olympics, in fact, may be to probe pressure points in the U.S.-South Korean alliance and to weaken international support for severe sanctions imposed over its nuclear-weapons program. Already, the South Korean government has openly broken with the U.S. government in characterizing the Olympics as a potential opening to a diplomatic resolution of the nuclear crisis rather than a blip in the Trump administration’s escalating “maximum pressure” campaign against the North. And already, the South Koreans have waived or relaxed sanctions rules to facilitate North Korea’s participation in the Games. In a striking sign of the divide between the United States and South Korea, Vice President Mike Pence didn’t interact with the North Korean officials seated right behind him at the Opening Ceremony, let alone shake their hands like Moon did.

It’s hard not to cheer the sight of North and South Koreans parading as one below an image of a Korean peninsula made whole, just 50 miles from one of the most militarized borders on earth. But North Korea has made it a little easier on everyone by sending a massive squad of young, female cheerleaders to the Olympics as part of its deal with South Korea. “It will be absurd, in Pyeongchang, to watch one of the world’s most repressive, totalitarian nations attempt to deploy two hundred and thirty smiling women as a diplomatic shield,” Jia Tolentino writes in The New Yorker. “The underlying idea is so ridiculous that it’s almost thrilling. Female youth, beauty, and obedience is supposed to be that distracting—a spectacle that could even dissipate thoughts of nuclear war.”

Leftist South Korean President’s Approval Drops as Distaste with North Korea Thaw Grows

Multiple polls of South Korean citizens taken this week have found a drop in approval ratings for President Moon Jae-in, who has risked his legacy on a scheme to include North Korea in next month’s Winter Olympics that may come at the price of some South Korean athletes’ lifelong dream.

North and South Korea have agreed to march in the Olympics Opening Ceremony together and field a joint hockey team, meaning some South Korea athletes will be barred from participating in the Olympics to make room for arguably less capable athletes from the North. The excluded players “have earned their spots and they think they deserve to go to the Olympics,” South Korea’s female hockey team coach Sarah Murray said.

Moon visited the distraught team on Wednesday and told them that “showing unity and hope may be more important than winning,” according to Reuters.

The South Korean newspaper Joongang Ilbo reported Saturday local time on multiple polls finding the same trends regarding Moon’s popularity. A Gallup Kore poll found a 6-percent drop in approval in the past week down to 67 percent. A survey by the agency Realmeter found the same approval rating, a 3.5-percent drop in one week.

Joongang emphasizes that the drop in approval in the polls were larger among young voters, and that recent polls on reunification with the north found an increased reticence among young South Koreans to see themselves as part of a greater whole with North Korea.

Korea Institute for National Unification research director Park Ju-hwa told the newspaper that their recent surveys show “that unification based on homogenous identity no longer works,” as young Koreans do not see North Korea as part of their country.

This rejection of the communist north has made itself more apparent in public discourse as Moon has imposed athletic unification with Kim Jong-un’s rogue state. On Friday, Reuters collected comments from locals in Seoul and on social media that showed a reluctance to cooperate with the North and distrust in Moon’s plans to bring the North back into the global community without demanding concessions on human rights and military belligerence.

“North Korea was all about firing missiles last year, but suddenly they want to come to the South for the Olympics? Who gets to decide that?,” Reuters quotes Kim Joo-hee, a 24-year-old translator, as saying.

On social media, Reuters found commenters complaining that “the Pyeongchang Olympics have already become the Pyongyang Olympics” and that the “unification flag” the countries will use in an attempt to not offend each other when marching into the Opening Ceremony is “not my goddamned flag.”

In an editorial published Friday, the Chosun Ilbo, a South Korean newspaper, made similar complaints against the united front at the Olympics.

“How can we let the Olympics become a propaganda opportunity for the world’s most oppressive state?” the editorial asks. “The North’s Masikryong Ski Resort, where the South has offered to send budding skiers to train, was built using child labor.”

Chosun Ilbo‘s editors contend that Kim is astutely using the Olympics stunt to get in the good graces of the international left and distract from a U.S.-led global effort to cripple his economy and force Kim to abide by international law. North Korea, they argue, “wants to flaunt its nuclear power and try to steal the show, with a strong message that it has no intention of giving up its nukes, Olympics or no Olympics.”

“It seems that few believe that the Olympics will serve as an opportunity for North Korea to change its attitude and give up its missile and nuclear programs. And what is Seoul doing?” the piece concluded.

Evidence on North Korean state propaganda networks indicates that Kim is attempting to use the Olympics to convince North Koreans that a unified Korean under the Kim dynasty is imminent. Chosun highlights a propaganda clip called “Reunification is by Korean nation itself” [sic] and television coverage that does not mention that South Korea is hosting the Winter Olympics as signs that Moon’s grand gesture has not triggered a change in attitude in Pyongyang.

North Korea is also demanding that American assets withdraw from South Korea and that Seoul end its military cooperation with the country. “It looks as though North Korea is already presenting a laundry list of demands for agreeing to take part,” Chosun, whose coverage tends to skew conservative, laments.

Too Much of a Bully Pulpit?

Both the Obama and George W. Bush administrations demanded that Pyongyang give up its nuclear ambitions before coming to the table. Even so, inflammatory remarks by President Trump during a cooling period may have sent Kim into the arms of his southern neighbor. A good cop, bad cop scenario? That remains to be seen.

What’s different is, Pyongyang is actually dealing directly with Seoul . Before, it has demanded to deal directly with the United States . North Korea's Kim regime is loath to give up its nuclear weapons program after seeing what happened to Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi, each of whom dismantled their programs after receiving heavy pressured from the West. It is therefore likely that Kim will get an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) strong enough to carry a nuclear warhead and use it as leverage to secure a handsome deal.

If the North and South Korea could work out a lasting peace among themselves, that might lead to the best outcome. Experts say a soft landing on North Korea, rather than a bloody conflict, assassination, or coup, is probably the best approach. Besides nuclear weapons, North Korea has thousands of long-range artillery pointed directly at Seoul , along with other horrific plans should its final hours be at hand. A conflagration would cause devastation and a horrific loss of life, the likes of which the world hasn’t seen since perhaps World War II.

Despite strong rhetoric to the country, there is little leverage outside of pressuring China to try and stop North Korea from developing it’s nuclear and missile programs. Credit: Getty Images.

But that’s an end game for the Kim regime. A starving army, old equipment, and a lack of resources means it can only see temporary gains through asymmetrical warfare. There’s no way the Kim regime could hold onto power should it come to an escalating conflict. And say the country were to fall suddenly, what then? Well, millions of starving North Korean refugees might flood the Chinese and South Korean borders.

Besides that chaos, South Koreans would have to foot a significant part of the bill to rebuild North Korean infrastructure, a price tag estimated at $1 trillion dollars, according to S. H. Jang, former president of the Royal Asiatic Society -Korean Branch. Such a public investment would surely sow a lot of resentment among the population of South Korea .

Meanwhile, North Koreans would likely be forced to work in factories for low wages, once corporations flood in to take advantage of the cheap labor. North Korean citizens militarized and filled with propaganda could easily organize themselves and start a bloody uprising to overthrow what they’d see as imperialist invaders. Since many of those factories would likely be from South Korea , it could even spark a civil war. So, whether Pyongyang’s current intentions are authentic or merely posturing, Washington and Seoul will have to play along, play nice, and see where this new thaw in relations is leading, if anywhere at all.

For its part, the Winter Olympic Games in PyeongChang , South Korea , will include six new sporting events: men's and women's big air snowboarding, men's and women's speed skating mass start, curling mixed doubles and the Alpine team event where skiing teams pool their talent. And more competitions means more gold medals —102 in total—the most ever contested at an Olympic Winter Games to date.

Op-Ed: No, the Olympics will not defuse the North Korea crisis

It was an inspiring sight: North and South Korean Olympic teams marching together behind a single unification flag. Could the opening ceremonies augur a new era of inter-Korean reconciliation?

Not likely. Pyongyang still refuses to abandon its nuclear arsenal or start a dialogue with the United States. Meanwhile, Washington has announced that the “toughest and most aggressive” sanctions against the regime are forthcoming.

When the Olympic flame leaves Pyeongchang, the nuclear crisis will return.

When the Olympic flame leaves Pyeongchang, the nuclear crisis will return. And it will do so even if South Korean President Moon Jae-in tries to keep the spirit alive by accepting a rare invitation from Kim Jong Un to visit the North for a summit meeting.

North Korea is close to being able to strike the American homeland with nuclear weapons. As national security advisor H.R. McMaster and Joseph Dunford, the current chairman of the Joint Chiefs, have made clear, President Trump finds this “intolerable” and has directed the military to prepare a preventive war option. Trump has also warned that the U.S. military is “locked and loaded” and threatened to “totally destroy” North Korea.

Some proponents of preventive attack, including people within the Trump administration, argue that it could be carried off with no consequences because North Korea would realize that it couldn’t prevail in an all-out war with the United States. But this view is predicated on an illogical assumption that the North’s allegedly non-deterrable madman would somehow make a sane and rational assessment of the costs and benefits.

In fact, any U.S. military operation against North Korea would carry dangerous consequences.

A minimalist strike would not end Pyongyang’s ICBM program. But it could very well spark a proportional response on U.S. military bases in South Korea. Would Washington accept those casualties, or escalate further?

An attack large enough to truly undermine the North’s ICBM program would require an extensive bombing campaign that could trigger what Defense Secretary James Mattis has warned would be a “catastrophic” war.

Escalating threats from both sides are driving the danger of miscalculation to an all-time high. Would North Korea understand that a limited U.S. strike wasn’t the beginning of a shock-and-awe campaign to induce regime change? Could Pyongyang misperceive a bloody nose attack as an attempt to decapitate its leadership?

The Congressional Research Service estimates that a conflict on the Korean Peninsula would leave “between 30,000 and 300,000 dead” in the first days of fighting. Casualty figures would soar higher if North Korea used its nuclear, biological and chemical weapons, or if China joined the conflict.

The emphasis on preventive attack undermines both components of the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure and engagement” strategy. Sanctions have been ramped up only recently they require time to work.

Moreover, allies perceive the inclination toward preventive attack as inimical to their own interests. South Korea is concerned about becoming entangled in an unnecessary war, even as it fears abandonment by the United States in the face of North Korean threats.

Seoul worries that Washington won’t risk Los Angeles for Seoul, but that it would trade Seoul for Los Angeles. Concern is so acute in South Korea, in fact, that Moon thought it necessary to declare: “There cannot be any military action on the Korean Peninsula without a prior consent of the Republic of Korea.”

All this fear could lead to discord between the United States and South Korea, something that in turn could be exploitable by Pyongyang. The North’s participation in the Winter Olympics, which highlighted common Korean themes, is part of Kim’s campaign to drive a wedge between the allies.

If it plays a high-stakes game of brinkmanship, the United States will paint itself into a corner. By defining the completion of North Korea’s ICBM program as an intolerable and strike-inducing event, the Trump administration would be drawing a red line it is not necessarily prepared to hold.

Eventually, every poker player must deliver on their bet, or be revealed as a bluffer. If the United States comes out looking like a bluffer, American credibility will be gravely eroded.

We are now closer to a war on the Korean Peninsula than at any point since 1994. The Trump administration should avoid both a premature return to negotiations and a reckless preventive attack. Instead, it should respond to the growing threat by seriously pursuing its policy of “maximum pressure.”

The administration has taken some steps that are weakening the regime. It has successfully gotten other countries to break either diplomatic or economic ties to North Korea. But the administration continues to shy away from applying any real pressure on China. That’s a mistake.

Launching a preemptive military strike, without any indication that a North Korean attack is imminent, would be an even bigger mistake. We would be starting a war in order to prevent a war. As Otto von Bismarck observed: “Preventive war is like committing suicide out of fear of death.”

Bruce Klingner is a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation. He previously served as the CIA’s deputy division chief for Korea.

North Korea shows uneasiness with South Korea after deal to cooperate during Olympics

The recent deal securing cooperation between North and South Korea in the upcoming Winter Olympics listed 19 specific pledges, including a combined hockey team, a unified march during opening ceremonies and shared cultural events.

One agreement negotiators didn’t ink, however, was how either side might react to media coverage.

North Korea — a totalitarian nation with state-controlled media — this week canceled a planned joint cultural event amid complaints about how media in the South — a democracy with a relatively freewheeling press — have covered the thorny issues still dividing the two nations.

The North’s objections focused on coverage in the South of a planned military parade in the North’s capital, Pyongyang. The parade was recently moved up to Feb. 8, the day before the Olympics open with the two nations marching together under a neutral unification flag.

The military parade serves as an ill-timed reminder in the South, whose leaders hope the Olympics might cool tensions on the peninsula, that the North remains a provocative neighbor intent on highlighting its emerging nuclear capability.

Recent stories about the parade reflected the deep skepticism among many in South Korea about the North’s motives — a fact that shouldn’t be a surprise to leaders in Pyongyang, experts say.

The thrust of this month’s historic agreement remains, and the North’s 22 athletes are still expected to compete. But the objection about media highlights the countries’ divergent philosophies and goals ahead of the Games, despite all the recent talk of peace and national solidarity.

“Let’s not have the unrealistic goal that North and South march arm in arm in the Olympics, and everything is fine,” said David Kang, an international relations professor at USC who directs its Korean Studies Institute.

So far, South Korean President Moon Jae-in and other officials in his government have shown what some observers consider restraint in response to the North’s actions during the last two weeks. In addition to moving up the military parade, the North made a surprise postponement of a location-scouting visit for musical performances in Gangneung, one of the Olympic host cities, and Seoul, the capital. The visit happened a day later.

The South’s Unification Ministry, which handles inter-Korean relations, called the cancellation of the cultural event at the North’s Mt. Kumgang “very regrettable.” The event was set to include pop stars and other musicians from the South, who were to perform with their counterparts from the North.

“The North and the South must fulfill agreements made on the basis of mutual respect and understanding,” the ministry said in a statement Monday.

The North’s official Korean Central News Agency, or KCNA, meanwhile, has lashed out in recent days at the South and the United States, a key ally to Seoul. Its caustic statements responding to complaints in the South and accusing the United States of seeking war have come with a mix of conciliatory messages too, leading to confusion about its position — a familiar enigma for North Korea watchers.

“It’s business as usual for North Korea,” said Martyn Williams, a writer for the North Korea Tech website who gets the nation’s media reports via a satellite feed to his San Francisco-area home. “That’s what they do all the time.”

The KCNA in recent days objected to people in the South who have criticized the Olympics deal, which includes plans to bring a large delegation of musicians, cheerleaders and tae kwon do demonstrators for cultural exchanges.

Some activists in the South recently gathered at a central train station in Seoul to protest what they derisively coined the “Pyongyang Olympics” — and the effort to combine the countries’ women’s hockey teams.

The group set fire to a North Korean flag and an image of leader Kim Jong Un, which resulted in the news agency labeling them as “top-class” traitors.

Such incidents in the South, which has a robust protest culture, could remain problematic if they continue during the Games. Other potential pitfalls, such as North Korean athletes being exposed to unapproved contact with media or people, also remain.

In addition to inter-Korean concerns, the North’s propaganda arms have turned their ire on the United States, issuing statements in recent days suggesting a plot to undermine the North’s Olympic participation. It’s another development that could spell trouble as Vice President Mike Pence visits the South next week.

Before Kim’s New Year’s Day comments about inter-Korean relations led to the Olympics breakthrough, his military and scientists oversaw numerous illegal ballistic missile tests and an underground nuclear detonation. Kim has bragged that his nuclear arsenal can now strike the U.S. mainland.

But the Olympics still have the potential to create an environment more conducive to dialogue.

Korea experts say that at least for the moment the focus should remain on the sporting and cultural milestones that remain from the deal — a shared march on Korean soil and the historic first of a combined Olympic team competing together.

“I don’t think the North Korean participation in the Olympics is in a precarious state,” said Go Myong-Hyun, a research fellow at Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul. “What we have to do is look at the substantial issues. All this other stuff is ancillary.”

Stiles is a special correspondent.

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Kim Jong Un’s sister shakes hands with South Korean president Moon Jae In at opening ceremony

IT was over in a matter of seconds, but the impact of the historic moment at the Olympic opening ceremony is being called “unprecedented”.

Winter Olympics kicks off in South Korea.

Winter Olympics kicks off in South Korea

Kim Yo Jong, left, sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, shakes hands with South Korean President Moon Jae-in at the opening ceremony of the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympic Games. Picture: Patrick Semansky/Pool/Getty Images Source:Getty Images

THE sister of rogue North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has made history after publicly shaking hands with the South Korean president at the 2018 Winter Olympics opening ceremony.

The handshake between Kim Yo Jong and South Korean president Moon Jae In was so monumental because it was the first time a member of the Kim Dynasty has set foot on South Korean land since the end of the Korean War in 1953.

It is also the first time a member of the Kim bloodline has met with a South Korean leader on their soil, with previous meetings taking place in North Korean capital Pyongyang.

The move is widely considered to be an unprecedented display of unity and peace between the two nations.

Kim Jong Un's sister Kim Yo Jong has made history. Picture: Patrick Semansky/AFP/Pool Source:AFP

The dictator’s sister was seated behind US Vice President Mike Pence during the ceremony, which saw athletes from both North and South Korea marching into the PyeongChang stadium together in a powerful and tear-jerking moment during the Winter Olympics opening ceremony.

Wearing white, the athletes from the divided country who live amid constant nuclear threats, walked in to huge cheers from the crowd, with “Korea” written on the back of their jackets.

The sight led to “sobbing” from some in the audience and was watched by Kim Jong Un’s sister and South Korean President Moon Jae In, as well as US Vice President Mike Pence.

It was hailed as an incredible moment of unity by Olympic officials, with one saying the world is “touched by this wonderful gesture.”

“We all join and support you in your message of peace. United in our diversity we are stronger than all the forces that want to divide us.”

North Korean and South Korean athletes arrive together for the first time in 11 years. Picture: Franck Fife/Pool Photo via AP. Source:AP

North Korea's Hwang Chung Gum and South Korea's Won Yun-jong hold the flag. Picture: AP Photo/Petr David Josek. Source:AP

The moment led to “sobbing” in the crowd. Picture: AP Frank Fife/Getty Images. Source:Getty Images

It’s the first time in 11 years North and South Korea have marched together.

During the 2000s, the two countries’ athletes marched together at the opening and closing ceremonies of several international sporting events, including the 2000 Sydney Olympics. The last time before Friday was at the Asian Winter Games in China in 2007.

The two countries have also formed a joint women’s hockey team, which consists of 23 South Koreans and 12 North Koreans.

North Korea has sent hundreds of people to PyeongChang, including officials, athletes, artists, journalists and a 230-member cheering group.

Russia’s entrance to the stadium was also notable as the athletes marched as “Olympic Athletes from Russia,” under a significant cloud related to past doping concerns.

There are 168 Russians who are being forced to compete in neutral uniforms under the Olympic flag as punishment for Russian doping in Sochi in 2014. Other athletes haven’t been invited to compete at all. Appeals by 45 of them were rejected Friday.

Kim Yo-jong, the sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (in black) watches with South Korean president Moon Jae-in (front row centre) and his wife, Kim Jung-sook. Picture: Carl Court/Getty Images. Source:Getty Images


The Korean peninsula had been occupied by Japan from 1910. On 9 August 1945, in the closing days of World War II, the Soviet Union declared war on Japan and advanced into Korea. Though the Soviet declaration of war had been agreed by the Allies at the Yalta Conference, the US government became concerned at the prospect of all of Korea falling under Soviet control. The US government therefore requested Soviet forces halt their advance at the 38th parallel north, leaving the south of the peninsula, including the capital, Seoul, to be occupied by the US. This was incorporated into General Order No. 1 to Japanese forces after the Surrender of Japan on 15 August. On 24 August, the Red Army entered Pyongyang and established a military government over Korea north of the parallel. American forces landed in the south on 8 September and established the United States Army Military Government in Korea. [4]

The Allies had originally envisaged a joint trusteeship which would steer Korea towards independence, but most Korean nationalists wanted independence immediately. [5] Meanwhile, the wartime co-operation between the Soviet Union and the US deteriorated as the Cold War took hold. Both occupying powers began promoting into positions of authority Koreans aligned with their side of politics and marginalizing their opponents. Many of these emerging political leaders were returning exiles with little popular support. [6] [7] In North Korea, the Soviet Union supported Korean Communists. Kim Il-sung, who from 1941 had served in the Soviet Army, became the major political figure. [8] Society was centralized and collectivized, following the Soviet model. [9] Politics in the South was more tumultuous, but the strongly anti-Communist Syngman Rhee emerged as the most prominent politician. [10]

The US government took the issue to the United Nations, which led to the formation of the United Nations Temporary Commission on Korea (UNTCOK) in 1947. The Soviet Union opposed this move and refused to allow UNTCOK to operate in the North. UNTCOK organized a general election in the South, which was held on 10 May 1948. [11] The Republic of Korea was established with Syngman Rhee as president, and formally replaced the US military occupation on 15 August. In North Korea, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea was declared on 9 September, with Kim Il-sung as prime minister. Soviet occupation forces left the North on 10 December 1948. US forces left the South the following year, though the US Korean Military Advisory Group remained to train the Republic of Korea Army. [12]

Both opposing governments considered themselves to be the government of the whole of Korea, and both saw the division as temporary. [13] [14] The DPRK proclaimed Seoul to be its official capital, a position not changed until 1972. [15]

North Korea invaded the South on 25 June 1950, and swiftly overran most of the country. In September 1950 the United Nations force, led by the United States, intervened to defend the South, and advanced into North Korea. As they neared the border with China, Chinese forces intervened on behalf of North Korea, shifting the balance of the war again. Fighting ended on 27 July 1953, with an armistice that approximately restored the original boundaries between North and South Korea. [16] Syngman Rhee refused to sign the armistice, but reluctantly agreed to abide by it. [17] The armistice inaugurated an official ceasefire but did not lead to a peace treaty. It established the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), a buffer zone between the two sides, that intersected the 38th parallel but did not follow it. [17] North Korea has announced that it will no longer abide by the armistice at least six times, in the years 1994, 1996, 2003, 2006, 2009, and 2013. [18] [19]

Large numbers of people were displaced as a result of the war, and many families were divided by the reconstituted border. In 2007 it was estimated that around 750,000 people remained separated from immediate family members, and family reunions have long been a diplomatic priority for the South. [20]

Competition between North and South Korea became key to decision-making on both sides. For example, the construction of the Pyongyang Metro spurred the construction of one in Seoul. [21] In the 1980s, the South Korean government built a 98m tall flagpole in its village of Daeseong-dong in the DMZ. In response, North Korea built a 160m tall flagpole in its nearby village of Kijŏng-dong. [22]

Tensions escalated in the late 1960s with a series of low-level armed clashes known as the Korean DMZ Conflict. During this time North and South Korea conducted covert raids on each other in a series of retaliatory strikes, which included assassination attempts on the South and North leaders. [23] [24] [25] On 21 January 1968, North Koreans commandos attacked the South Korean Blue House. On 11 December 1969, a South Korean airliner was hijacked.

During preparations for US President Nixon's visit to China in 1972, South Korean President Park Chung-hee initiated covert contact with the North's Kim Il-sung. [26] In August 1971, the first Red Cross talks between North and South Korea were held. [27] Many of the participants were really intelligence or party officials. [28] In May 1972, Lee Hu-rak, the director of the Korean CIA, secretly met with Kim Il-sung in Pyongyang. Kim apologized for the Blue House Raid, denying he had approved it. [29] In return, North Korea's deputy premier Pak Song-chol made a secret visit to Seoul. [30] On 4 July 1972, the North-South Joint Statement was issued. The statement announced the Three Principles of Reunification: first, reunification must be solved independently without interference from or reliance on foreign powers second, reunification must be realized in a peaceful way without use of armed forces against each other finally, reunification transcend the differences of ideologies and institutions to promote the unification of Korea as one ethnic group. [27] [31] It also established the first "hotline" between the two sides. [32]

North Korea suspended talks in 1973 after the kidnapping of South Korean opposition leader Kim Dae-jung by the Korean CIA. [26] [33] Talks restarted, however, and between 1973 and 1975 there were 10 meetings of the North-South Coordinating Committee at Panmunjom. [34]

In the late 1970s, US President Jimmy Carter hoped to achieve peace in Korea. However, his plans were derailed because of the unpopularity of his proposed withdrawal of troops. [35]

In 1983, a North Korean proposal for three-way talks with the United States and South Korea coincided with the Rangoon assassination attempt against the South Korean President. [36] This contradictory behavior has never been explained. [37]

In September 1984, North Korea's Red Cross sent emergency supplies to the South after severe floods. [26] Talks resumed, resulting in the first reunion of separated families in 1985, as well as a series of cultural exchanges. [26] [38] Goodwill dissipated with the staging of the US-South Korean military exercise, Team Spirit, in 1986. [39]

When Seoul was chosen to host the 1988 Summer Olympics, North Korea tried to arrange a boycott by its Communist allies or a joint hosting of the Games. [40] This failed, and the bombing of Korean Air Flight 858 in 1987 was seen as North Korea's revenge. [41] However, at the same time, amid a global thawing of the Cold War, the newly elected South Korean President Roh Tae-woo launched a diplomatic initiative known as Nordpolitik. This proposed the interim development of a "Korean Community", which was similar to a North Korean proposal for a confederation. [42] From 4 to 7 September 1990, high-level talks were held in Seoul, at the same time that the North was protesting about the Soviet Union normalizing relations with the South. These talks led in 1991 to the Agreement on Reconciliation, Non-Aggression, Exchanges and Cooperation and the Joint Declaration of the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. [43] [44] This coincided with the admission of both North and South Korea into the United Nations. [45] Meanwhile, on 25 March 1991, a unified Korean team first used the Korean Unification Flag at the World Table Tennis Competition in Japan, and on 6 May 1991, a unified team competed at the World Youth Football Competition in Portugal.

There were limits to the thaw in relations, however. In 1989, Lim Su-kyung, a South Korean student activist who participated in the World Youth Festival in Pyongyang, was jailed on her return. [45]

The end of the Cold War brought economic crisis to North Korea and led to expectations that reunification was imminent. [46] [47] North Koreans began to flee to the South in increasing numbers. According to official statistics there were 561 defectors living in South Korea in 1995, and over 10,000 in 2007. [48]

In December 1991 both states made an accord, the Agreement on Reconciliation, Non-Aggression, Exchange and Cooperation, pledging non-aggression and cultural and economic exchanges. They also agreed on prior notification of major military movements and established a military hotline, and working on replacing the armistice with a "peace regime". [49] [50] [51]

In 1994, concern over North Korea's nuclear program led to the Agreed Framework between the US and North Korea. [52]

In 1998, South Korean President Kim Dae-jung announced a Sunshine Policy towards North Korea. Despite a naval clash in 1999, this led in June 2000, to the first Inter-Korean summit, between Kim Dae-jung and Kim Jong-il. [53] As a result, Kim Dae-jung was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. [54] The summit was followed in August by a family reunion. [38] In September, the North and South Korean teams marched together at the Sydney Olympics. [55] Trade increased to the point where South Korea became North Korea's largest trading partner. [56] Starting in 1998, the Mount Kumgang Tourist Region was developed as a joint venture between the North Korean government and Hyundai. [57] In 2003, the Kaesong Industrial Region was established to allow South Korean businesses to invest in the North. [58] In the early 2000s South Korea ceased infiltrating its agents into the North. [59]

US President George W Bush, however, did not support the Sunshine Policy and in 2002 branded North Korea as a member of an Axis of Evil. [60] [61]

Continuing concerns about North Korea's potential to develop nuclear missiles led in 2003 to the six-party talks that included North Korea, South Korea, the US, Russia, China, and Japan. [62] In 2006, however, North Korea resumed testing missiles and on 9 October conducted its first nuclear test. [63]

The 15 June 2000 Joint Declaration that the two leaders signed during the first South-North summit stated that they would hold the second summit at an appropriate time. It was originally envisaged that the second summit would be held in South Korea, but that did not happen. South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun walked across the Korean Demilitarized Zone on 2 October 2007 and traveled on to Pyongyang for talks with Kim Jong-il. [64] [65] [66] [67] The two sides reaffirmed the spirit of 15 June Joint Declaration and had discussions on various issues related to realizing the advancement of south–north relations, peace on the Korean Peninsula, common prosperity of the people and the unification of Korea. On 4 October 2007, South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il signed a peace declaration. The document called for international talks to replace the Armistice which ended the Korean War with a permanent peace treaty. [68]

During this period political developments were reflected in art. The films Shiri, in 1999, and Joint Security Area, in 2000, gave sympathetic representations of North Koreans. [69] [70]

Lee Myung-bak government Edit

The Sunshine Policy was formally abandoned by the new South Korean President Lee Myung-bak in 2010. [71]

On 26 March 2010, the 1,500-ton ROKS Cheonan with a crew of 104, sank off Baengnyeong Island in the Yellow Sea. Seoul said there was an explosion at the stern, and was investigating whether a torpedo attack was the cause. Out of 104 sailors, 46 died and 58 were rescued. South Korean President Lee Myung-bak convened an emergency meeting of security officials and ordered the military to focus on rescuing the sailors. [72] [73] On 20 May 2010, a team of international researchers published results claiming that the sinking had been caused by a North Korean torpedo North Korea rejected the findings. [74] South Korea agreed with the findings from the research group and President Lee Myung-bak declared afterwards that Seoul would cut all trade with North Korea as part of measures primarily aimed at striking back at North Korea diplomatically and financially. [ citation needed ] North Korea denied all such allegations and responded by severing ties between the countries and announced it abrogated the previous non-aggression agreement. [75]

On 23 November 2010, North Korea's artillery fired at South Korea's Yeonpyeong island in the Yellow Sea and South Korea returned fire. Two South Korean marines and two civilians were killed, more than a dozen were wounded, including three civilians. About 10 North Koreans were believed to be killed however, the North Korean government denies this. The town was evacuated and South Korea warned of stern retaliation, with President Lee Myung-bak ordering the destruction of a nearby North Korea missile base if further provocation should occur. [76] The official North Korean news agency, KCNA, stated that North Korea only fired after the South had "recklessly fired into our sea area". [77]

In 2011 it was revealed that North Korea abducted four high-ranking South Korean military officers in 1999. [78]

Park Geun-hye government Edit

On 12 December 2012, North Korea launched the Kwangmyŏngsŏng-3 Unit 2, a scientific and technological satellite, and it reached orbit. [79] [80] [81] In response, the United States reployed its warships in the region. [82] January–September 2013 saw an escalation of tensions between North Korea and South Korea, the United States, and Japan that began because of United Nations Security Council Resolution 2087, which condemned North Korea for the launch of Kwangmyŏngsŏng-3 Unit 2. The crisis was marked by extreme escalation of rhetoric by the new North Korean administration under Kim Jong-un and actions suggesting imminent nuclear attacks against South Korea, Japan, and the United States. [83]

On 24 March 2014, a crashed North Korean drone was found near Paju, the onboard cameras contained pictures of the Blue House and military installations near the DMZ. On 31 March, following an exchange of artillery fire into the waters of the NLL, a North Korean drone was found crashed on Baengnyeongdo. [84] [85] On 15 September, wreckage of a suspected North Korean drone was found by a fisherman in the waters near Baengnyeongdo, the drone was reported to be similar to one of the North Korean drones which had crashed in March 2014. [86]

According to a 2014 BBC World Service poll, 3% of South Koreans viewed North Korea's influence positively, with 91% expressing a negative view, making South Korea, after Japan, the country with the most negative feelings of North Korea in the world. [87] However, a 2014 government-funded survey found 13% of South Koreans viewed North Korea as hostile, and 58% of South Koreans believed North Korea was a country they should cooperate with. [88]

On 1 January 2015, Kim Jong-un, in his New Year's address to the country, stated that he was willing to resume higher-level talks with the South. [89]

In the first week of August 2015, a mine went off at the DMZ, wounding two South Korean soldiers. The South Korean government accused the North of planting the mine, which the North denied. After that South Korea restarted propaganda broadcasts to the North. [90]

On 20 August 2015, North Korea fired a shell on the city of Yeoncheon. South Korea launched several artillery rounds in response. There were no casualties in the South, but some local residents evacuated. [91] The shelling caused both countries to adopt pre-war statuses and a talk that was held by high level officials in the Panmunjeom to relieve tensions on 22 August 2015, and the talks carried over to the next day. [92] Nonetheless while talks were going on, North Korea deployed over 70 percent of their submarines, which increased the tension once more on 23 August 2015. [93] Talks continued into the next day and finally concluded on 25 August when both parties reached an agreement and military tensions were eased.

Despite peace talks between South Korea and North Korea on 9 September 2016 regarding the North's missile test, North Korea continued to progress with its missile testing. North Korea carried out its fifth nuclear test as part of the state's 68th anniversary since its founding. [94] In response South Korea revealed that it had a plan to assassinate Kim Jong-un. [95]

According to a 2017 Korea Institute for National Unification, 58% of South Korean citizens had responded that unification is necessary. Among the respondents of the 2017 survey, 14% said 'we really need unification' while 44% said 'we kind of need the unification'. Regarding the survey question of 'Do we still need unification even if ROK and DPRK could peacefully coexist?', 46% agreed and 32% disagreed. [96]

In May 2017 Moon Jae-in was elected President of South Korea with a promise to return to the Sunshine Policy. [97] In his New Year address for 2018, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un proposed sending a delegation to the upcoming Winter Olympics in South Korea. [98] The Seoul–Pyongyang hotline was reopened after almost two years. [99] At the Winter Olympics, North and South Korea marched together in the opening ceremony and fielded a united women's ice hockey team. [100] As well as the athletes, North Korea sent an unprecedented high-level delegation, headed by Kim Yo-jong, sister of Kim Jong-un, and President Kim Yong-nam, and including performers like the Samjiyon Orchestra. [101] A North Korean art troupe also performed in two separate South Korean cities, including Seoul, in honor of the Olympic games as well. [102] The North Korean ship which carried the art troupe, Man Gyong Bong 92, was also the first North Korean ship to arrive in South Korea since 2002. [103] The delegation passed on an invitation to President Moon to visit North Korea. [101]

Following the Olympics, authorities of the two countries raised the possibility that they could host the 2021 Asian Winter Games together. [104] On 1 April, South Korean K-pop stars performed a concert in Pyongyang entitled "Spring is Coming", which was attended by Kim Jong-un and his wife. [105] The K-pop stars were part of a 160-member South Korean art troupe which performed in North Korea in early April 2018. [106] [107] It also marked the first time since 2005 that any South Korean artist performed in North Korea. [107] Meanwhile, propaganda broadcasts stopped on both sides. [22]

On 27 April, a summit took place between Moon and Kim in the South Korean zone of the Joint Security Area. It was the first time since the Korean War that a North Korean leader had entered South Korean territory. [108] North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and South Korea's President Moon Jae-in met at the line that divides Korea. [109] The summit ended with both countries pledging to work towards complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. [110] [111] They also vowed to declare an official end to the Korean War within a year. [112] As part of the Panmunjom Declaration which was signed by leaders of both countries, both sides also called for the end of longstanding military activities in the region of the Korean border and a reunification of Korea. [2] Also, the leaders agreed to work together to connect and modernise their railways. [113]

On 5 May, North Korea adjusted its time zone to match the South's. [114] In May, South Korea began removing propaganda loudspeakers from the border area in line with the Panmunjom Declaration. [115]

Moon and Kim met a second time on 26 May to discuss Kim's upcoming summit with Trump. [116] The summit led to further meetings between North and South Korean officials during June. [117] On 1 June, officials from both countries agreed to move forward with the military and Red Cross talks. [118] They also agreed to reopen an Inter-Korean Liaison Office in Kaesong that the South had shut down in February 2016 after a North Korean nuclear test. [118] The second meeting, involving the Red Cross and military, was held at North Korea's Mount Kumgang resort on 22 June where it was agreed that family reunions would resume. [119] After the summit in April, a summit between US President Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un was held on 12 June 2018 in Singapore. South Korea hailed it as a success. [ citation needed ]

South Korea announced on 23 June 2018 that it would not conduct annual military exercises with the US in September, and would also stop its own drills in the Yellow Sea, in order to not provoke North Korea and to continue a peaceful dialog. [120] On 1 July 2018 South and North Korea have resumed ship-to-ship radio communication, which could prevent accidental clashes between South and North Korean military vessels around the Northern Limit Line (NLL) in the West (Yellow) Sea. [121] On 17 July 2018, South and North Korea fully restored their military communication line on the western part of the peninsula. [122]

South Korea and North Korea competed as "Korea" in some events at the 2018 Asian Games. [123] The co-operation extended to the film industry, with South Korea giving their approval to screen North Korean movies at the country's local festival while inviting several moviemakers from the latter. [124] [125] [126] In August 2018 reunions of families divided since the Korean War took place at Mount Kumgang in North Korea. [127] In September, at a summit with Moon in Pyongyang, Kim agreed to dismantle North Korea's nuclear weapons facilities if the United States took reciprocal action. In Pyongyang, an agreement titled the "Pyongyang Joint Declaration of September 2018" was signed by both Korean leaders [128] The agreement calls for the removal of landmines, guard posts, weapons, and personnel in the JSA from both sides of the North-South Korean border. [129] [130] [131] They also agreed that they would establish buffer zones on their borders to prevent clashes. [132] Moon became the first South Korean leader to give a speech to the North Korean public when he addressed 150,000 spectators at the Arirang Festival on 19 September. [133] Also during the September 2018 summit, military leaders from both countries signed an Agreement on Reconciliation, Non-Aggression, Exchanges and Cooperation" (a.k.a. "the Basic Agreement") to help ensure less military tension between both countries and greater arms control. [134] [135] [136]

On 23 October 2018, Moon ratified the Basic Agreement and Pyongyang Declaration just hours after they were approved by his cabinet. [137]

On 30 November 2018, a South Korean train crossed the DMZ border with North Korea and stopped at Panmun Station. This was the first time a South Korean train had entered North Korean territory since 2008. [138]

2019 Edit

On 30 June, Kim and Moon met again in the DMZ, joined by US President Trump who initiated the meeting. [139] The three held a meeting at the Inter-Korean House of Freedom. [139] Meanwhile, North Korea conducted a series of short–range missile tests, and the US and South Korea took part in joint military drills in August. On 16 August 2019, North Korea's ruling party made a statement criticizing the South for participating in the drills and for buying US military hardware, calling it a "grave provocation" and saying there would be no more negotiation. [140]

On 5 August, South Korea's president Moon Jae-in spoke during a meeting with his senior aides at the presidential Blue House in Seoul, discussing Japan's imposed trade restrictions to Korea as a result of historical issues. [141] Moon then withdrew South Korea from an intelligence-sharing agreement with Japan, seeking a breakthrough with North Korea in the process, but opted against it at the last minute. [142] In a meeting at Seoul's presidential Blue House in August 2019, amid an escalating trade row between South Korea and Japan, Moon expressed his willingness to cooperate economically with North Korea to overtake Japan’s economy. [143] [144]

On 15 October, North and South Korea played a FIFA World Cup qualifier in Pyongyang, their first football match in the North in 30 years. The game was played behind closed doors with attendance open only to a total of 100 North Korean government personnel no fans or South Korean media were allowed into the stadium, and the game was not broadcast live. No goals were scored. [145] Meanwhile, Kim and Moon continued to have a close, respectful relationship. [146]

The 2019 South Korea Defense White Paper does not label North Korea as an "enemy" or "threat" for the first time in history. While not explicitly calling North Korea an enemy, the paper mentions that North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction threaten peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula. [147]

2020 Edit

On 9 June 2020, North Korea began cutting off all of its communication lines with South Korea. This came after Pyongyang had repeatedly warned Seoul regarding matters such as the failure of the South to stop North Korean expatriate activists from sending anti-regime propaganda leaflets across the border. The Korean Central News Agency described it as "the first step of the determination to completely shut down all contact means with South Korea and get rid of unnecessary things". [148] The sister of Kim Jong-un, Kim Yo-jong, as well as the Vice Chair of the Central Committee of the ruling Workers' Party of Korea, Kim Yong-chol, stated that North Korea had begun to treat South Korea as its enemy. [149] A week prior to these actions, Kim Yo-Jong had called North Korean defectors "human scum" and "mongrel dogs". The severing of communication lines substantially diminished the agreements that were made in 2018. [150] On 13 June, Kim Yo-jong, warned that "before long, a tragic scene of the useless North-South joint liaison office completely collapsed would be seen." On 16 June, the North threatened to return troops that had been withdrawn from the border to posts where they had been previously stationed. Later that day, the joint liaison office in Kaesong was blown up by the North Korean government. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the South Korean delegation had departed from the building in January. [151] On 5 June 2020, the North Korean foreign minister Ri Son-gwon said that prospects for peace between North and South Korea, and the U.S., had "faded away into a dark nightmare". [152] On 21 June 2020, South Korea urged North Korea to not send propaganda leaflets across the border. The request followed the North's statement that it was ready to send 12 million leaflets, which could potentially become the largest psychological campaign against South Korea. [153]

On December 14, 2020, the South Korean parliament passed a law which criminalized the launching of propaganda leaflets into North Korea. [154] This ban applies to not only the large amount of balloon propaganda leaflets which have been sent into North Korea of the years, but also leaflets that have been sent in bottles in rivers which run along the Korean border. [154] Violators of the law, which went into effect three months after it was approved, [154] face up to three years in prison or 30 million won ($27,400) in fines. [154]

2021 Edit

In February 2021, South Korea continued to omit North Korea's "enemy" status from the South Korean military's White Paper after downgrading the status of Japan. [155] [156]

Crash Landing on You (Korean: 사랑의 불시착 RR: Sarangui Bulsichak MR: Sarangŭi pulshich'ak lit. Love's Emergency Landing) is a 2019–2020 South Korean television series directed by Lee Jeong-hyo and featuring Hyun Bin, Son Ye-jin, Kim Jung-hyun, and Seo Ji-hye. It is about a South Korean woman who accidentally crash-lands in North Korea. It aired on tvN in South Korea and on Netflix worldwide from 14 December 2019 to 16 February 2020. [157] [158]

Ashfall (Korean: 백두산 Hanja: 白頭山 RR: Baekdusan), also known as: Mount Paektu, is a 2019 South Korean action film directed by Lee Hae-jun and Kim Byung-seo, starring Lee Byung-hun, Ha Jung-woo, Ma Dong-seok, Bae Suzy and Jeon Hye-jin. The film was released in December 2019 in South Korea. [159] [160] In the film, the volcano of Baekdu Mountain suddenly erupts, causing severe earthquakes in both North and South Korea.

The King 2 Hearts (Korean: 더킹 투하츠 RR: Deoking Tuhacheu) is a 2012 South Korean television series, starring Ha Ji-won and Lee Seung-gi in the leading roles. [161] It is about a South Korean crown prince who falls in love with a North Korean special agent. The series aired on MBC from 21 March to 24 May 2012 on Wednesdays and Thursdays at 21:55 for 20 episodes.

Once Again, North Korea Is Reaching Out to the South. We Should Be Receptive, but Wary.


Senior Research Fellow, Northeast Asia

North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un delivers a New Year's Day message on Jan. 1, 2018. Yonhap News/YNA/Newscom

It has become tradition among North Korea watchers to dissect Pyongyang’s annual New Year’s Day speech for clues of potential policy changes.

Each year, some experts interpret benign-sounding passages as indicating North Korean reform or greater willingness to engage diplomatically with Washington or Seoul. Others interpret passages that extol North Korea’s military accomplishments as threats of imminent attack on the U.S. or its allies.

To get the full picture, it is important that we assess each benign or bombastic passage within the broader context of the speech, as well as in comparison with speeches in previous years.

Even more importantly, however, is to assess them in light of the actions North Korea has taken after past New Year’s Day speeches.

How ‘New’ Is This New Year’s message?

North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un’s speech reiterated many of the same themes from previous iterations—blaming others for tension on the peninsula, vowing to uphold the socialist economic system, calling for vigilance against foreign and internal enemies, and extending an olive branch to South Korea.

But this year, Kim referenced the upcoming Winter Olympics in South Korea as a way to appeal for working toward Korean unification, without outside (i.e. U.S.) involvement.

After complaining that the new progressive South Korean government was no better than its conservative predecessors, Kim declared that “we should improve the frozen inter-Korean relations and glorify this meaningful year as an eventful one noteworthy in the history of the nation.”

Kim hinted that “we are willing to dispatch our delegation [and] the authorities of the North and the South may meet together soon. … It is natural for us to share their pleasure over the auspicious [Olympics] event and help them.”

The progressive Moon Jae-in administration responded quickly by announcing its intention to reopen military hotlines and resume inter-Korean meetings—both of which Pyongyang had previously closed.

But as is characteristic of the North Korean regime, Kim imposed conditions on improving inter-Korean relations, declaring that Seoul “should respond positively to our sincere efforts for a détente [by] discontinu[ing] all the nuclear war drills they stage with outside forces, as these drills will engulf this land in flames and lead to bloodshed on our sacred territory.”

Pyongyang has long blamed allied military exercises—but not its own—as an obstacle to improved relations.

Pyongyang’s offer to attend the Olympics may seem novel, but almost all of its past New Year’s Day speeches have called for Seoul to resume the dialogue that Pyongyang had severed, or to reduce the tensions that North Korean had escalated with its provocations, threats, and deadly attacks.

None of those gestures from North Korea were ever matched by a change in the regime’s behavior.

Should North Korea Be Welcomed at the Olympics?

In the 1960s through the ‘80s, the international community was appalled by South Africa’s apartheid regime and thus banned the country from participating in Olympics.

But in response to North Korea’s far more egregious human rights violations—which the United Nations has ruled to be “crimes against humanity”—the world allows and even encourages Pyongyang to participate.

The international community has long tried, and failed, to moderate North Korean behavior and bring about political and economic reform by asking Pyongyang to participate in sporting and other cultural events. Yet with each new attempt, optimists breathlessly anticipate that this time, the appeasement will work.

The 2000 Sydney Olympics was one such example. Taking place only six months after the historic first inter-Korean summit, the sight of North and South Korean athletes walking together behind a non-national unification flag was uplifting and a sign of hope.

Yet behind the scenes, North Korea had demanded and received a secret payment from Seoul, along with payment for the North’s uniforms, and agreement that the North’s delegation would not be outnumbered by the South’s. This prevented many South Korean athletes and coaches from marching into the stadium as part of the Korean entourage.

An inspiring sight to be sure, but as with visits by symphonies and other cultural and sporting envoys, this gesture failed to alter North Korea’s policies and real-world behavior.

Similarly, other attempts at sports diplomacy at events in South Korea—including the 2002 Asian Games, the 2003 University Games, the 2005 Asian Athletics Championship, and the 2014 Asian Games—all failed to improve inter-Korean relations. In 1987, Pyongyang downed a civilian airliner in an attempt to disrupt the 1988 Seoul Olympics.

But as the world seeks to isolate and pressure North Korea for its repeated violations of United Nations resolutions, it should ask itself: Why is Pyongyang still allowed to participate in the Olympics, but South Africa was shunned?

Reducing the Potential for Conflict

During the last year, the danger of military hostilities on the Korean Peninsula has risen precipitously due to North Korea’s growing military capabilities, particularly as it closes in on the ability to target the U.S. homeland with nuclear weapons.

The Trump administration’s own messaging toward North Korea has also inflamed tensions. It has signaled willingness to initiate military strikes on North Korea, even without indications of imminent regime attack. This has escalated tensions and unnerved allies. Conflicting policy statements from the administration and the president’s bombastic tweets have unnecessarily antagonized the situation.

U.S. and South Korean diplomats should be willing to meet North Korean counterparts if indeed Pyongyang is now prepared to engage. Washington and Seoul should emphasize efforts to reduce the potential for conflict on the Korean Peninsula, particularly measures to build mutual confidence and security.

But dialogue shouldn’t come at the cost of giving out concessions or reducing the international effort to pressure North Korea for its repeated violations of United Nations resolutions.

Nor should South Korea promise economic benefits that would themselves violate the resolutions, such as resuming the failed joint economic experiment at Kaesong.

As always, we must hold a healthy skepticism toward assertions that the North Korean leopard has suddenly changed his spots. Because, as a Korean adage points out, “the same animal can have soft fur and sharp claws.”


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