By Kaia Johnson
Amidst the ever-increasing threat of violence between North Korea and South Korea, North Korea is to participate in the Winter Olympics this month held in Pyeongchang, South Korea, from February 9th – 25th. North Korea’s decision to participate came in January, after the U.S. agreed to postpone specific military drills until after the Olympics, and talks were reopened between Pyongnang and Seoul for the first time in two years. Tensions are high as the games could mean a step for diplomacy, an opportunity for violence, or a perfunctory pause in a mutual animosity that is to be resumed directly after.
North Korea has a history of violence when South Korea has hosted sporting events. A year before the 1988 Summer Games, North Korea bombed a South Korean airliner, with one aim being to scare athletes and visitors out of going to the games. In 2002, a naval clash in disputed waters killed six South Korean sailors while the country was hosting the World Cup. However, in incidences where North Korea has participated in sporting events with South Korea, competing under one flag has been a symbol of reconciliation and diplomacy, such as during the 2000, 2004, and 2006 Olympics.
This year, North Korean and South Korean athletes are again to march under the same flag, with 22 North Korean athletes, including, most notably, members of a united Korean soccer team, set to participate in the games. Although threat of violence at the games remains relatively low, security will be at an all-time high, perhaps making this the most militarized Olympic Games to take place. What North Korea’s participation means, politically, has yet to be determined. Pyongnang has made it clear that it will not condone the commencement of military or nuclear exercises from the U.S. after the temporary truce that the games represent. Perhaps North Korea is using the games to show that although it is a great world power, it also seeks peace with South Korea, or at least leverage to soften South Korea’s stance. Although North Korea’s participation could mean a step towards greater diplomacy, it could also be merely a short pause before hostilities resume after the games.