This week in the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Games, North and South Korea’s joint women’s hockey team will play, marking the first ever unified Korean team. After months of negotiation between both North and South Korea, this symbolic gesture is a diplomatic push by the North to ease tensions after a year of growing fears and war rhetoric.
While this gesture is meant to relieve pressure over North Korea’s nuclear weapon programme, we are seeing the presence of anti-unification protests in Seoul. Protesters worry that the show of unity will threaten South Korea’s democracy, and that the leader of North Korea, Kim Jong Un is only using the Olympics to politically advertise the two nations at peace. However this gesture is no more than an opportunity for North Korea to create a wedge between South Korea and the United States.
The Olympics offer North Korea a unique opportunity to boost its propaganda, and create an alliance with the south, making it more difficult for the US to continue their military threats.
To fully understand the gravity of this decision it’s important to look at why North and South Korea were separated in the first place.
Imperial Japan ruled over Korea from 1910 until 1945, when they were forced to surrender after World War II. Korea became a victim of the Cold War as it was divided along the 38th parallel, with US troops occupying the South, and the Soviet Union occupying the North. On June 25, 1950 North Korea launched a surprise attack on the South, starting the Korean War that would last three years, and cause US intervention. When an armistice was finally reached in July 1953, 2.5 million people had died. Since then, tensions between North Korea and the United States remain high, especially between President Trump and Kim Jong Un.
North Korea’s use of the Olympics as a political tool is not a new tactic. In 1980, the US boycotted the Moscow Olympics in protest of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. In reaction to this, Pyongyang boycotted the 1984 California Olympics in solidarity with the Soviet Union.
Domestically, North Korea has used the Olympics as a propaganda tool for decades. They began competing in the Winter Olympic Games in 1964, and the Summer Olympic Games in 1972. They have earned 56 medals in total, 16 of them gold. However, sporting events in North Korea are almost always shown at a later time, so that the government can choose to only broadcast favourable games. When North Korea is not in a favourable position, the results are often never broadcast and the population left in the dark.
The unification of Korea is highly unlikely at this time due to cultural, historical and economic circumstances. Therefore this display is merely a show from North Korea to the US. This should come as no surprise from the vastly unpredictable country. North Korea’s radical nationalism and fascination with violence as a political strategy is an example of how fascist regimes are a danger. North Korea, as well as many other former fascist countries such as Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, have used propaganda as a political tactic. If the vital US ally South Korea begins seriously talking with North Korea, the US administration may be forced to soften their position on North Korea policy, even though the two countries are far from becoming a union. While Kim Jong Un seems to be offering olive branches to his neighbours, he makes no effort to show signs of denuclearization. Therefore, while spectators may cheer on the unified Korean athletes, it’s important to note the true political background of the situation.