Winter Olympics on the Korean Peninsula

The PyeongChang 33rd Winter Olympics are expected to act as a tool to bridge differences between the Republic of Korea (ROK) and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK)

Sports promote mutual understanding among nations. They are excellent means of reconciliation, creating good-will, and resolving conflicts. Participation in such sports encourages political, economic, and social dialogue among countries to diffuse mutual tension and build a strong and durable relationship. The importance of sports diplomacy as such cannot be denied.

Among sports, Olympics provide a unique opportunity to the global community to enhance interaction among its members. However, Olympics are often politicised. The politics of Olympics has been used to promote self-interests. For instance, the Nazi propaganda pervaded the Berlin Games in 1936 and the Soviet-Hungarian friction at the 1956 Games in Melbourne, Australia.

The controversy between China and Taiwan led to a boycott of the 1976 Montreal Games in Canada. During apartheid in South Africa, the country was barred from participating in Olympics. US President Jimmy Carter announced a boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics to protest against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. These were first collective tactics in sports diplomacy used by the United States and its allies and other nations against the Soviet Union to put pressure on it to leave Afghanistan. Similarly, the Soviet Union and its allies boycotted the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, and the Soviet bloc organised its own sports instead.

The PyeongChang 33rd Winter Olympics are expected to act as a tool to bridge differences between the Republic of Korea (ROK) and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). These Olympics are expected to employ sports diplomacy to build confidence between the two Koreas to restore political good-will, resume economic interaction, and to help rebuild people-to-people contacts to diffuse tension on the Korean Peninsula.

The PyeongChang Olympics will be a rare opportunity for the DPRK to end its isolation in world politics and help ease the UN-led sanctions against it

These Olympics will be ROK’s second Olympics. The first Asian city to hold Olympics was Tokyo in 1964, followed by Seoul in 1988, and Beijing in 2008. Moreover, among Asian cities, Winter Olympics were held at Sapparo (1972) and Nagano (1998) in Japan. 94 countries will be expected to participate in the PyeongChang Olympics, including athletes from the DPRK; thus giving greater importance to these games.

The PyeongChang Olympics will be a prodigious opportunity for the DPRK to end its isolation in world politics and help ease the UN-led sanctions against it. The ROK termed the PyeongChang Olympics as the festival of ‘Peace Olympics’. The two Koreas will march under one blue-and-white flag that will symbolise unity. A joint cheering Women Ice Hockey Team of the ROK and DPRK will compete together for the first time in 27 years.

Kim Yong-nam, Head of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly of North Korea, DPRK’s ceremonial head of State and Premier, accompanied by three officials and 18 support staff, will lead a high-level delegation to the Winter Olympics. A batch of 22 athletes from the DPRK will participate in the Winter Olympics.

The DPRK’s team will take part in 11 events. Kim Jong-un’s sister, Kim Yo-Jong, might also attend the Olympics. Kim Yong-nam will be in the company of South Korean President Moon Jae-in, US Vice President Mike Pence, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, and dozens of other dignitaries, opening a new vista for the DPRK’s regime.

The United States, however, would not leave any stone un-turned impugning the DPRK regime at the Winter Olympics. The US Vice-President Mike Pence will stop DPRK from ‘hijacking’ the Winter Olympics, by using his presence at the games to remind the world: ‘everything the North Koreans do at the Olympics is a charade to cover up the fact that they are the most tyrannical and oppressive regime on the planet’.

In short, the politics of reconciliation and diplomacy of sports for building trust shall be given a fair chance, and the hawkish ‘blame-games’ should be avoided to bring prospects of peace on the Korean Peninsula. The festival of the ‘PyeongChang Peace Olympics’ would bring unprecedented enthusiasm for a durable and lasting tranquillity on the Korean Peninsula.

The writer is Director of the China-Pakistan Study Centre at the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad. He writes on East Asian affairs

Published in Daily Times, February 10th 2018.