2018 Winter Olympics Korean Lasting Effects

Thomas Dobbs, Reporter

The Olympics started and ended as scheduled in PyeongChang, South Korea in February.  Unfortunately, the United States lost in the overall medal count, but, more importantly, the nation lost in terms of world diplomacy. Through unprecedented diplomatic efforts of their own, the stage was set by the host country South Korea for an increasingly frigid and potentially volatile relationship between the United States and North Korea to begin to thaw.

It was an incredible sight to see North and South Korea march under one flag in the opening ceremony and then field a women’s hockey team—the first joint Olympic team—consisting of both North and South Korean athletes.  Maybe the world should not have been so surprised to see this show of goodwill between the North and South. After all, at the United Nations session in September, South Korean president, Moon Jae-in described the Olympics as “a candle that sheds light on peace.”  While this statement did not garner much attention at the time, it was, in hindsight, symbolic of a desired unity and denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. The South Korean president recognized the present as a critical time to improve the relationship between North and South Korea, which had reached an all-time low. Jae-in also sought to provide a pathway for the United States and North Korea to find a peaceful resolution to their own ongoing tensions.

South Korea made several concessions to the North, including paying for their uniforms, housing, and food (Keep in mind, this Korean team includes the 280 North Korean cheerleaders whom I found particularly amusing).  Most importantly, both countries agreed that each Korea should contribute the same number of players. Obviously, this came at the greatest cost to South Korea, whose athletes far outnumber their counterparts from the North. The women’s ice hockey team, which consisted of 23 South Korean and 12 North Korean athletes, received the most attention. Angela Ruggiero, a member of the International Olympic Committee, states of the joint Korean team, “I would love the team to get the Nobel Peace Prize.”

As a result of the goodwill shown between North and South Korea, the two countries are beginning a series of meetings between leaders with the goal of peaceful negotiation and the establishment of long-term stability. On March 5th, North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un met face-to-face with South Korean officials for the first time since 2011 and announced that he would be willing to denuclearize under certain conditions. The two sides also agreed to open a hotline so that leaders could communicate directly and announced a future joint summit in April in the Demilitarized Zone. North and South Korea have both expressed a willingness to use diplomacy to resolve the situation and have started to make progress toward that goal.

Meanwhile, the United States somehow missed the diplomatic memo and has continued its harsh rhetoric and, at times, childish behavior, seemingly wasting an opportunity to improve relationships between North Korea and the rest of the world.

Vice President Mike Pence visited the Olympics on a five day trip to Asia. Most famously, Mike Pence shared a section at the Olympic Opening Ceremony with Kim Jong-un’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, and the South Korean President, Moon Jae-in. While the Koreans interacted and shook hands, Pence acted completely oblivious to the scene unfolding around him, managing to only applaud the United States’ appearance. Pence was set to meet with the North Koreans later that trip, following his denouncement of their nuclear weapons, and recently announced sanctions against the secretive nation.

Unsurprisingly, the North Koreans pulled out of the meeting a mere two hours before its start. According to The Washington Post, two White House officials stated: “Pence was not to open any negotiations with North Korea but to deliver the Trump administration’s tough stance face-to-face.” I question the United States’ purpose of conducting a meeting if their strategy ignores the possibility of negotiation. Is the most effective meeting one in which our president’s tweets are recited to North Korean officials, and does that have any chance of resolving the situation?

While joint Korean efforts in both athletic events and peaceful negotiations have provided a sense of unity and hope to end the conflict, the United States’ actions (or lack thereof) work to destroy this opportunity. United States officials have rejected all efforts to open reasonable negotiations with the North and are currently traveling on a nonstop road to armed conflict. Hopefully, this joint Korean team will help to change that and establish a path to denuclearization and a peaceful Korean peninsula.