by Kristina Vakhman
North Korea will be sending 22 of their athletes to compete in the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea next month. Moreover, the two Koreas will march together under one flag in the opening ceremony on Feb. 9, as well as merge their female hockey team players into one team.
In addition to hockey, BBC Sports reported that the North Koreans will go up as challengers in figure skating, short track speed skating, cross-country skiing and alpine skiing.
The official decision came after the International Olympic Committee met in Lausanne, Switzerland last Saturday with delegates from both nations to authorize North Korea’s participation. The “Olympic Korean Peninsula Declaration,” which was approved during the meeting, guarantees North Korean athletes’ entries into the Games.
James Long, a sophomore studying Philosophy at Central Connecticut State University, believes that North Korea’s involvement will pave the way toward diplomacy in the heat of Kim Jong-un’s nuclear pursuits.
“Having North Korea attend the Olympic Games works two-fold as it allows them to express tensions in a non-violent manner and gives North Koreans a chance to see the outside world as less hostile. I hope that peace may be achieved with North Korea and that these games may lead to that peace,” Long said.
Devon G. Arce, a senior and Economics major at CCSU, agreed with this sentiment, saying that “there will be trouble on the horizon” if the motion would have been denied.
“[Kim Jong-un] is still a dangerous leader and this agreement is somewhat making it seem like he is not, yet he still has missile and military power that we should not be taking lightly, even in a time of reunion,” Arce stated. “As a minor in East Asian Studies, who has an interest in South Korean culture, society, media and government, I feel the same way many South Koreans feel. Of course the agreement between the North and South will be beneficial to the two countries in that it will make the bond stronger between the governments.”
In the past, North Korea has boycotted two major sports events held in Seoul, South Korea: the 1986 Asian Games and the 1988 Summer Olympics. However, this will not be the first time the divided countries competed together, a prime example being their unified women’s table tennis team winning the world championship in 1991 against a powerful Chinese duo.
Despite this deal being a landmark achievement in terms of conversation between the two countries—North and South Korea have had minimal contact since 2016—some think that unification is still a far-off fantasy.
“Although I am up for unification, I don’t think this is a significant step for unification,” Yeonjin Kim, an assistant professor of communications at CCSU who hails from South Korea, commented. “This is a just trial for communication between two countries. For the North Korea side, this event can be used to make them look good to get more support from the United States or other countries. However, beyond these reasons, I believe this is meaningful by initiating communication between South and North Korea.”
Critics argue that allowing North Korea to participate normalizes the dictatorship’s atrocities, such as its human rights violations, and undermines the sanctions against it. Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono told reporters last Wednesday that “it is not the time to ease pressure or to reward North Korea” because “the fact that North Korea is engaging in dialogue could be interpreted as proof that the sanctions are working.”
“North Korea is still a dictatorship that refuses to follow most of the world in terms of peace and unity,” Arce expressed in regards to these points. “One month North Korea threatens missiles and the next they are making an agreement with the South to share and be united. The two nations coming together under one flag has glazed over the fact that the way of rule in North Korea is dictatorship and the treatment of the North Korean people is a violation of human rights. Not to mention their refusal to follow sanctions set and followed by the rest of the free world. Though this agreement is a good idea for the government relations, we shouldn’t be so ready to turn a blind eye to the reality that is North Korea.”
“The human rights violations happening there is awful, and I by no means condone it, nor think anyone should,” Long also reflected. “However, I do think the best route at dealing with those issues would be a diplomatic one, and having North Korea at the Games could potentially help to make that a reality.”