On December 31st 2017, North Korea’s Chairman Kim Jong Un warmly congratulated South Korea on hosting the 2018 Winter Olympics at Pyeongchang when delivering his new year address. He mentioned that in the light of the new year, he hoped that the North and the South could improve their relations. In particular, Kim proposed to dispatch a delegation to represent North Korea in the forthcoming Winter Olympics. This proposal was confirmed by South Korean Sports Minister Do Jong-hwan. Many consider Kim’s affable gesture and his desire to enter the Olympics as an unexpected turn of events due to the longstanding tension between the North and the South.
This proposal, however, received some negative responses from the US. Many deemed North Korea untrustworthy and demanded South Korea to reject their proposal. Renowned Republican senator Lindsey Graham remarked that having North Korea take part in the Olympics would “give legitimacy to the most illegitimate regime on the planet”, and suggested that the US may boycott if North Korea participate in the Olympics. Despite their comments, North Korean athletes did participate in numerous Olympics Games since 1972 and performed quite successfully. On top of that, the Pyeongchang Olympics organizers have reaffirmed that the Games will be safe with North Korean contestants.
Meanwhile, South Koreans gladly invite North Korean athletes to participate in the Olympic Games. The South Korean president Moon Jae-in commented on the CNN that the Pyeongchang Olympics will be a great opportunity for the North to reconnect with the South. Media reported that he has repeatedly suggested North Korea to consider the possibility of their participation before Kim’s proposal.
The International Olympic Committee also encourages North Korea to participate, offering to cover training costs for its athletes and allowing two North Korean skaters who were qualified but weren’t registered before the deadline to compete in the Pyeongchang Olympic Games.
Given the tumultuous history between the two countries (particularly the North Korea’s boycotting of the 1988 Seoul Games), Kim’s proposal can be seen as an act of reconciliation between the North and the South. More efforts to reconcile is evident; North Korea recently reopened a previously suspended border hotline with South Korea and accepted an invitation to meet with South Korean officials on January 9th in Panmunjom to negotiate a resolution to their strained relations. Many pointed out that this talk will be the “first high-level inter-Korean dialogue in more than two years”, throughout which there have been threats from North Korea on firing their ballistic and nuclear missiles.
As the Olympics draws nearer, the respective ministers from North Korea and South Korea also plan to run through details about the proposal and potential arrangements on January 9th. Although there are obstacles the two countries have yet to conquer, hopes are that they can establish a strong bond and resolve their conflict once and for all through the Olympic Games.