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  • Olympics Remain Caught in Korean Geopolitics


    08/10/17

    (ATR) It is unlikely that the PyeongChang 2018 Olympics could be affected from conflict on the Korean Peninsula, even as tense rhetoric in the region escalates.

    Donald Trump's comments ratcheted tensions surrounding the Korean Peninsula (Getty Images)
    PyeongChang 2018 will open in less than six months, around 40 miles from the Demilitarized Zone that separates the two Koreas. The DMZ is the most obvious reminder of the Korean War, which has never officially ended although a ceasefire was implemented in 1953.

    Tensions in the region escalated earlier this week as U.S. President Donald Trump said North Korea would face “fire and fury like the world has never seen” if the country continued its missile tests. In response, state news agency KCNA reports North Korea says it is drafting plans for a potential strike on the U.S. territory of Guam, if needed.

    Dr. Sangsoo Lee, a senior research fellow at the Stockholm-based Institute for Security & Development Policy, tells Around the Rings that North Korea is “likely to refrain from military provocations to avoid international criticisms.” Although, upcoming joint military drills from the U.S. and South Korea this month could lead to more tense rhetoric.

    “The Inter-Korean sports diplomacy hasn’t been successful so far, since North Korea is not much interested in such civilian contacts for improving relations with the South,” Lee says. “Instead, North Korea prefers to solve bigger security issues with the U.S., such as nuclear crisis by demanding a peace treaty and the cessation of US-ROK military exercises.

    “Furthermore, since North Korea’s economy has improved slowly in recent years…the inter-Korean relations are unlikely to be improved in the near future.”

    Tensions in the U.S. have risen in the last 48 hours, especially given threats of an attack on its sovereign territory in the Pacific. However, that feeling has not permeated in South Korea, where citizens are used to provocations from the North.

    “The 'sea of fire' threat from the North is nothing new, as it is a rhetoric that has been repeated for years,” Sujin Chun, a Korean journalist, told ATR. “I would say that average Jacks and Jills of Seoul are so used to the threat and therefore are relatively less sensitive. Plus, with PyeongChang 2018 approaching, South Korean President Jae In Moon has made it clear that he would like to see what he dubbed a 'Peace Olympics,’ which has also raised hopes for a dialogue to a certain level."

    PyeongChang is not focusing on international security issues outside of its control (ATR)
    Meanwhile the IOC says in a statement it is “keeping itself informed about the developments” on the peninsula, as preparations remain on track. Earlier this year PyeongChang said it would not speculate on potential national security threats ahead of the Olympic Games.

    PyeongChang made headlines earlier this week after a report from The Korea Herald said that organizers were considering bringing the Olympic Torch to North Korea in a show of friendship and peace. Pyeongchang 2018 spokesperson Nancy Park told ATR that the idea “is not part of the current torch relay plans.”

    “However the [South Korea] government is open to dialogue with [North Korea] about their participation at PyeongChang2018.”

    Even if it is not part of the torch relay, engaging with the North Korean government in PyeongChang-related activities could spur dialogue between the two countries, Lee speculates. President Moon continues to seek dialogue with Pyongyang, but North Korean ministers have said they do not believe that talks would happen in good faith. A symbolic event like the torch relay, could allow for face to face meetings leading to a thawing of future relations.

    “South Korea is still willing to engage in North Korea by initiating the inter-Korean dialogue, while Pyongyang is refusing offers from Seoul,” Lee said. “The Olympic torch is a symbol of peace; if North Korea allows the Olympic torch into the Northern part of Korea, it could become a starting-point for Moon’s engagement policy toward North Korea.”

    Written by Aaron Bauer

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