Questions have been raised over South Korea’s reconciliatory attitude toward North Korea in connection with the upcoming Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, which appears intended to butter up Pyongyang.
South and North Korea have agreed that they will form a joint women’s ice hockey team and that their athletes will march together during the games’ opening ceremony. Prior to the Olympics, South and North Korea will hold cultural events on Mount Kumgang, a scenic site in the North, and athletes will hold joint training on a ski slope there.
North Korea’s participation in the upcoming Olympics in the South is not undesirable. It is also natural that South Korea try to ease tensions even temporarily and boost the mood of the games — an event supposed to promote peace. However, one cannot help but wonder whether South Korea fully understands the North’s true intentions.
While creating a “reconciliation mood” with Seoul by sending delegates to the upcoming Olympics, Pyongyang has kept demanding that South Korea’s joint military drill with the United States be cancelled. It is obvious that the North is trying to drive a wedge into the U.S.-South Korea alliance.
Moreover, North Korea appears to be aiming to further deepen a split in South Korean public opinion between those in favor of and those who are wary of reconciliation. The North has employed similar tactics to shake up the South in the past. What is particularly difficult to understand is the attitude coming from the administration of South Korean President Moon Jae-in, which appears to be abetting the North’s aims through proposals such as the cultural events and joint ski training on Mount Kumgang.
Considering that North Korea had allowed South Korean tourists to visit Mount Kumgang until a decade ago, the North could take the opportunity of the Olympics to seek to resume the tourism project there to gain foreign currency revenue.
Since the ski slope on the mountain has been developed at the instruction of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, the planned joint training could be used for regime propaganda.
These matters will certainly trigger a fierce conflict in South Korean public opinion, and could run counter to the international community’s efforts to intensify pressure on Pyongyang over its nuclear and missile development programs.
The formation of a joint women’s ice hockey team was also proposed by Seoul. This is a measure that could force South Korean athletes to sacrifice their Olympic hopes for political purposes. One cannot help but wonder how South Korean hockey players are feeling about seeing their chances to play in games at the Olympics decrease despite all their intense training for the event.
President Moon aims to use progress in South-North dialogue as an entry point to resolving the nuclear issue. It is hoped that this will actually happen. However, Moon government’s moves appearing to prioritize reconciliation between South and North Korea over anything else have raised grave concerns.