Culture

North and South Korea Hope to March as One Team in February's Winter Olympics

South Korean Vice Unification Minister Chun Hae-sung, (Center left), talks with the head of the North Korean delegation Jon Jong-Su during their meeting at Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone in Paju, South Korea on January 17, 2018. )S. Korea Unification Ministry, Sipa via AP Images)

When the world gathers in Pyeongchang, South Korea, in February for the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics, viewers may see a fascinating and historic sight: a unified Korean team.

That’s right: what many might consider the unthinkable could happen, as representatives from both countries have agreed to march as one under a single flag in the opening and closing ceremonies, as well as fielding a women’s hockey team together. The New York Times reports: The women’s ice-hockey squad “will be the first combined Korean team for the Olympics, and the first unified team since their athletes played together for an international table-tennis championship and a youth soccer tournament in 1991.”

“The two countries’ delegations will march at the opening ceremony behind a ‘unified Korea’ flag that shows an undivided Korean Peninsula, negotiators from both sides said in a joint news release after talks at the border village of Panmunjom,” the Times reported. “The North will send 230 supporters to the Games, and negotiators agreed that supporters of both Koreas would root together for athletes from both countries.”

Even though the joint hockey team is an Olympic first, it’s won’t be the first time a unified Korean team has marched together. In fact, they have teamed up nine other times, including the Summer Olympics in 2000 and 2004 and the Winter Olympics in 2006. The last time they marched together was at the Asian Winter Games in 2007.

The talks at the border last weekend marked the first time the nations have spoken in two years. Representatives from both nations hope that the decision could diffuse tensions between them. South Korea has a Unification Ministry, whose goal is to work for peace on the peninsula.

Additionally, South Korea’s president has another motive for the united women’s hockey team — to promote ice hockey to his nation. According to the Independent (UK): “Before Wednesday’s announcement, South Korean President Moon Jae-in, during a visit to a training centre, told players: ‘I don’t know if it will happen, but a joint team will be a good opportunity for ice hockey to shed its sorrow as a less-preferred sport as many Koreans will take interest.'”

Naturally, not everyone believes that the unification of the two nations, whose recent history of tension and division is common knowledge, is a positive move. In fact, representatives from one nation close to the peninsula believe that North Korea’s willingness to talk proves that the hard line that the international community is taking is working. “It is not the time to ease pressure, or to reward North Korea,” Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono said. “The fact that North Korea is engaging in dialogue could be interpreted as proof that the sanctions are working.”

Athletes from South Korea aren’t crazy about the idea of unified Olympic teams either. Many Olympians from the South have expressed concerns for years that, under a united Korean team, they might take a back seat to North Korean athletes. As the Times reports: “South Korean athletes, who have far more resources and Olympic experience than their counterparts from the North, have balked in the past at the idea of sacrificing their hard-earned prospects for the sake of parity with North Korea in a united team. South Korean news outlets have reported that the South asked the International Olympic Committee to allow a unified hockey team to have an expanded roster, so that none of the South Korean players would have to bow out of the Games.”

The united Korean team will not be official until the International Olympic Committee gives its stamp of approval. The Committee will meet this weekend to decide whether to give the thumbs-up to the plan.

Is a united North and South Korea — even for ceremonies and one Olympic event — a good idea? What kind of give-and-take is involved? Does the move come across as a tacit endorsement of North Korea’s thuggish, brutal regime? Or is it just one of those meaningless gestures for “peace”? I guess we won’t know until the Winter Olympics and afterward.