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The Olympics and Korean Diplomacy

Andrew Lepore | USA

After a year of escalating tensions, beating war drums, and threats of “fire and fury”, most Americans have little confidence that the situation with North Korea will get better before it gets worse. Many Americans believe the chance for diplomacy on the peninsula is null. In fact, The University of Quinnipiac took a poll, showing 48% of Republicans and 17% of Democrats support a preemptive strike on the country.

Of course, this less than optimistic view about the North Korean Crisis is justifiable. In the last few years, negotiation and communication between Washington and Pyongyang have been virtually non-existent. However, recent revelations show an opportunity for de-escalation and steps toward a peaceful solution.

In a surprising New years announcement, Kim Jong Un declared that North Korea would like to participate in this year’s Winter Olympic Games, which will open in the South Korean Town of Pyeongchang next month. On national television, Kim stated:

“The Winter Olympic Games that will be held soon in the south will be a good opportunity to display the status of the Korea nation, and we sincerely wish that the event will be held with good results.”

He also stated they will “take various steps, including the dispatch of a delegation.” For many, this is a step in the right direction for cooperation between the Koreas. Previously, North Korea has refused to participate in games hosted by South Korea.

Kim’s announcement was welcome news for the current Progressive South Korean administration and its leader, President Moon Jae-in. Prior to his election, Jae-in emphasized greater cooperation and a more stable relationship with North Korea. Following Kim’s New Year’s announcement, President Moon’s re-unification minister, Cho Myoung-gyon, extended an invitation to a formal meeting between representatives from the two nations to negotiate and discuss Olympic cooperation. It also would emphasize diplomatic ties between the nations.

The meeting commenced on January ninth at the shared border village of Panmunjom, and ended successfully.  After 12 hours of bilateral negotiation, the two warring nations reached several conclusions:

North Korea will send athletes and a high level delegation to participate in the Olympic festivities in February.

The nations agreed to resume temporary reunions of families divided by the war, but “resolve national problems on our own.”

Lastly, both countries agreed to follow up these bilateral negotiations to relieve military tensions on the peninsula.

Indubitably, the conclusions of this meeting were quite optimistic. The two nations achieved successful talks without the help of the U.S or any other outside entity. Better yet, they plan on continuing this trend.

President Trump recently voiced his support for this communication. In a recent announcement, he stated “I’d like to see them getting involved in the Olympics and maybe things go from there, So I’m behind that 100%.” However, others in his administration have not expressed optimism about North Korea’s participation in the games nor the recent bilateral talks between North and South Korea.

General Mattis on the day of the Bi-lateral negotiations stated in reference to the talks; “The sum total of the subjects that are going to be discussed today are the Olympics only.” He also reportedly swore not to let North Korea drive a wedge between the U.S alliance with South Korea. North Korea doesn’t seem to have accomplished that, although they obviously talked about a lot more than the Olympics in that 12 hour conference, judging by the conclusion of the negotiations.

Mattis is not alone in his disapproval. Other top members of President Trump’s cabinet, such as National Security Advisor General H.R McMaster, share this feeling. On January 23rd, McMaster spoke of the scenario in a press interview.

“Everyone recognises that we can’t… fall for what in the past has been a North Korean ploy to create the illusion of success and talks, and to use that to lock in the status quo as the new normal.” -H.R. McMaster

In the weeks following the bilateral negotiations, the two nations took more steps towards unification. For example, the divided Koreas have agreed to march under a single Korean “reunification flag” at the games. They have also formed a joint Korean Women’s Ice Hockey team. The two countries came to these agreements after meeting at the International Olympic Committee headquarters. Despite disapproval from some U.S. and Chinese officials, the two nations plan to publicly display solidarity.

Both governments intend to use the Olympics, which some have dubbed “The Peace Olympics”,  to improve inter-Korean ties. Will this year’s Winter Games be a positive turning point for diplomatic relations on the peninsula? Only time will tell.

(Image courteous of CNN)

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