The 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang began with a rare display of unity from South Korea and North Korea. Olympic athletes from both nations marched together during the Opening Ceremony in South Korea.
“United in our diversity, we are stronger than all the forces that want to divide us,” International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach said Friday during the ceremony.
The unified flag of Korea was jointly carried into Pyeongchang Stadium by South Korean bobsledder Won Yun-jong and North Korean ice hockey player Hwang Chung-gum. The united contingent of athletes was the last to walk in the parade of nations.
Kim Yo-jong shakes hands with President of South Korea, Moon Jae-in during the Opening Ceremony of the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympic Games #OlympicTruce #Olympics@pyeongchang2018 pic.twitter.com/l1z3FaAh6X— Olympics (@Olympics) February 9, 2018
When did North Korea and South Korea agree to this?
Seoul’s Unification Ministry announced in January that the neighboring nations, who share a heavily fortified border, reached an agreement to march together under the unified flag showing the entire Korean peninsula. They will be fielding a joint women’s ice hockey team, a decision that drew backlash in South Korea.
“All of us had to give up something in our lives, but we’ve been striving toward one goal: to play in the Olympics,” South Korean starting goalie Shin So-jung told the newspaper Chosun Ilbo on Friday, via The New York Times. “We could bear it all because we’re proud to represent our country. That’s why we feel so devastated now.”
Has it ever happened at the Olympics before?
The teams had previously marched under the unified flag at Olympic games held in 2000, 2004, and 2006. The last time athletes from North Korea and South Korea played on the same team was during a table-tennis championship in 1991. In 1988, North Korea did not participate in the Summer Olympics held in Seoul, South Korea. Just months before the ‘88 Olympics, North Korean agents planted a bomb on a Korean Airlines Flight — killing all 115 on board — in an attempt to disrupt the games.
Haven’t political relations between tense lately?
In the months leading up to the 2018 games, North Korea conducted multiple missile tests. Increasing global tensions further, U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un engaged in a war of words. Amid applause in Pyeongchang Stadium when the unified team entered, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence remained seated. According to the White House, Pence did not interact with Kim Jong Un’s sister, who was seated nearby.
North Korea has more cheerleaders than Olympians in South Korea
There will be 22 North Korean athletes participating in the Pyeongchang Games, a contingent including figure skaters, skiers and ice hockey players. They will be supported in South Korea by a 229-woman cheer squad who traveled south for the games. They arrived sporting matching red coats and black caps.
How does everyone feel about all of this?
South Korea president Moon Jae-in framed the cooperation as a diplomatic success to the IOC leading up to the opening ceremony.
“Many considered it an impossible dream to have an Olympics of peace, in which North Korea would participate and the two Koreas would form a joint team,” Mr. Moon said, via The New York Times.
The participation and prominence of North Korea in the event has not been viewed as favorably by U.S. officials.
“We will not allow North Korean propaganda to hijack the message and imagery of the Olympic Games,” Pence said after meeting Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe before arriving in South Korea, via CNN.com. “We’ll be there to cheer our athletes, but we’ll also be there to stand with our allies and remind the world that North Korea is the most tyrannical and oppressive regime on the planet.”