Winter Olympic Games: true rapprochement between North and South Korea or announcement of a future confrontation ?

Author : Candice LABIDI.

After the Second World War, Korea has been divided: The North was occupied by the USSR and the South was occupied by the US. Today, North Korea is ruled by the dictator, Kim Jong-un, son of Kim Jong-il and South Korea is a democracy with Moon Jae-in as a head of state. Since 2015, the world has been watching very carefully the relation between the two Korea which are very tense, partly because of the nuclear threat of North Korea. This conflict is the starting point of many tensions in Asia. For instance, between Japan and North Korea. Last year, two north Korean missiles flew over Japan. However, from 9th to 25th February, South Korea welcomed the Winter Olympic Games, first step towards peace or ephemeral rapprochement?

Sport, ally of diplomacy?

I sincerely hope that Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Games will be lead with success. We are prompt to take necessary measures, including sending our delegation” declared Kim Jong-un in his new year message.

13th February, North Korea sent athlete, artistes, cheerleaders and a delegation of high officials in Pyeongchang to discuss the tensions in Korean peninsula. Among the member of this delegation, one person hold USA and South Korea’s attention: Kim Yo-jong, the little sister of the north Korean head of state, his confidante and pillar of the north Korea government. Thanks to Olympic Games, she was able to speak with Moon Jae-in, who is in favor of the dialogue with North Korea (unlike the US…). We saw them side by side cheering for the unified Korean team of women’s hockey, strong symbol of the rapprochement between North and South Korea. After the last game, a north Korean high official even declared it was totally possible that North Korea co-host with South Korea the Asian Games in 2021. The country (or in this case, the two countries) that will host the Asian Games will be revealed in august 2018.

To conclude, Kim Jong-un was very pleased of the hospitality of South Korea towards north Korean athlete and his sister and decided to invite Moon Jae-in to a summit in Pyongyang. However, the south Korean head of state, did not take any decision for now. The conditions must be extremely favorable for such an official visit. Also, Moon Jae-in highlighted the fact that it is “absolutely necessary that North Korea and the US start negotiations very soon”. If this happen, it will be the 3rd summit since 2000 that South Korea attends in North Korea.  

Thus, 2018 seems to be the year of the détente however it may be a very short-termed peace…

Calm before storm?

Unfortunately, this détente is more likely to end soon then to go on. First of all, not everybody in South Korea have forgot about the three-nuclear trial of the past two years and the tens of missile tests. The conservative blame Moon Jae-in to have sacrificed the Olympic Games for a few diplomatic progresses. Of course, the US are not in favor of a rapprochement between North Korea and South Korea. Donald Trump made it clear that he was hostile to Kim Jong-un. He threatened North Korea and asked them the denuclearization of the country.

A meeting with high officials and Mike Spence, vice-president of the US, was canceled after the latter said some tough words regarding North Korea. In addition, he also declared “The sister of Kim Jong-Un is a central pillar of the most tyrannical and an oppressive regime on the planet. An evil family clique that brutalizes, subjugates, starves and imprisons its 25 million people” to the   Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), an annual event for Americans conservative near Washington. Another future event that will surely cool down the relation between North and South: The annual joint nuclear exercise of South Korea and the US. In proof of good faith, Moon Jae-in reported them after the Paralympic Games. However, North Korea is blaming the Uncle Sam country to add fuel to the fire and warn that this will stir tensions up. Kim Jong-un wishes for the definitive end of these exercises. Globally the Olympic Games went well but 2 days before the end, the arrival of Kim Yong Chol, North Korean general, suspected of ordering the torpedoing of south Korean corvette in 2010, unleashed the opposition. “Kim Yong Chol is an evil war criminal who attacked the South. He deserves to be hang in the street” declared Kim Sung-tae, president of the opposition, Liberty Korea Party.

 Through history, sport became a true diplomatic asset, but we should not over estimate its power or to think of it as the geopolitical reality.  The relation between North Korea and South Korea has improved for a moment but for now, it is impossible to say if it will last or not: North Korea will not give up on nuclear power, the US are not willing to stops the joint exercises… Tensions could increase after this Olympic Truce.

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