Inter-Korean Olympic collaboration divides South

By Choi He-suk
  • Published : Jan 18, 2018 - 18:14
  • Updated : Jan 18, 2018 - 18:14
While the government celebrates Wednesday’s inter-Korean agreement on the PyeongChang Winter Games as a step forward in creating a “peace Olympics,” South Korea is once again finding itself divided over the North Korea issue.

On Wednesday, the two Koreas agreed on a range of issues on North Korea’s participation in the games, including the use of the “Korean Unification” flag at the opening ceremony and forming a unified women’s ice hockey team.

Players from both South Korea and North Korea pose for group pictures after their game at the International Ice Hockey Federation Women`s World Championship Division II Group A tournament at Gangneung Hockey Centre in Gangneung, Gangwon Province in April 2017. Yonhap

Though some lauded the agreement as a leap forward in inter-Korean relations, the measures are raising a number of thorny issues, and highlighting deep division within the country.

The opposition parties have united to stand against the use of the unification flag, claiming it would be unacceptable for South Koreans and symbolic of Seoul accepting even unreasonable demands in its desperation to bring North Korea to the games.

“Not stopping at begging North Korea to come (to the games), the government is giving up on (the use of) Taegeukgi, and formalizing the use of the unification flag,” Liberty Korea Party Floor Leader Rep. Kim Sung-tae said Wednesday.

“It is illogical to give up the national flag of the host country while turning a blind eye to the North Korean nuclear (threat), and falling into self-hypnosis over temporary inter-Korean reconciliation.”

The ruling Democratic Party of Korea has pushed back, accusing the opposition of resorting to an outdated war of ideologies. A recent poll shows the public to indeed be divided on the issue.

According to a poll conducted by local research firm Realmeter, 49.4 percent feel the South and North Koreans teams should carry their respective flags in the opening ceremony. About 40 percent agreed with the use of the unification flag.

The conservative main opposition continued its attack Thursday, accusing the Moon Jae-in administration of “offering up” the Olympics to the North Korean regime.

“The PyeongChang Olympic Winter Games, which should be a festival of the world, is becoming a festival for Kim Jong-un,” Liberty Korea Party spokesman Rep. Chang Je-won said Thursday.

Chang added that North Korea’s recent actions concerning the PyeongChang Games were a guise for hiding its true intentions, and that the games have been made into “a floor for promoting the Kim dynasty.”

In addition to using the unification flag, Seoul agreed to host a North Korean cultural performance troupe and taekwondo demonstration group. The two sides will also hold a joint training session for skiers at a North Korean ski resort, as well as a cultural performance in the North.

The training session, to be held at North’s Masikryong Ski Resort, in particular has raised red flags. The North Korean regime built the resort in 2013 despite the country’s economic difficulties, and hailed it as a monumental achievement of Kim Jong-un’s rule, earning criticism from the international community.

Critics say the resort being used for the training session could serve to bolster Pyongyang’s propaganda.

Even the seemingly simpler issue of forming a joint women’s ice hockey team is not without difficulties.

On Wednesday before the agreement, a local hockey fan filed a petition with the National Human Rights Commission claiming that a joint team would violate South Korean athletes’ rights.

The petitioner, identified by the surname Hong, said a joint team would result in South Korean players’ playing time being reduced.

While the International Olympic Committee has yet to approve the plans, a number of objections have already been raised both at home and abroad.

South Korea’s opposition parties have attacked Prime Minister Lee Nak-yeon over a comment suggesting there is a low likelihood of the South Korean women’s hockey team winning an Olympic medal.

At a press event Tuesday, Lee attempted to play down the controversies by saying that the rankings of South and North Korean teams do not suggest high likelihood of medals, and that South Korean players were in general welcoming of the idea.

The opposition parties jumped at Lee’s earlier comment, accusing the Moon administration of viewing the games as a political opportunity and of brushing aside the rights of South Korean athletes.

While human rights issues are raised at home, Switzerland, whose women’s hockey team will face South Korea on Feb. 10, has expressed discontent at the idea of giving the unified Korean team a larger roster.

“In terms of sports and for all teams who invest a lot of money and resources in their women’s teams, we are not in favor of this since it’s not fair and distorts competition,” Janos Kick, head of communications at the Switzerland Ice Hockey Federation, was quoted as saying by a local news agency.

By Choi He-suk (