BIPP: North and South Koreans to partner in Winter Olympics competition

Zach Krivine, Contributing Writer

North Korean officials made two surprising announcements on Jan. 9. For the first time since December 2015, officials from both North and South Korea would meet at the Korean de-militarized zone (the border separating the North from South) in an effort to begin talks in the midst of increased tension. In addition, it was announced that North Korea would send a group of athletes to participate in the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, and that the athletes from both sides of the Korean peninsula would march under the same flag in the opening ceremony. For some, this mini-détente offers a glimmer of hope for an exchange of rhetoric, and perhaps Korean reunification, at an earlier date than what many had originally thought.

Despite these announcements, tensions do not appear to be lessening, and leaders are growing anxious. On Jan. 16, a summit was held in Vancouver between military officials of the United States, Canada, and the 18 other nations that have deployed troops or sent humanitarian aid to the Korean peninsula.

Those in attendance did not mince words.

“We have to recognize that the threat is growing,” U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said, “and if North Korea does not choose the path of engagement, of discussion, negotiations, then they themselves will trigger an option.” Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono weighed in on the North’s recent rapprochement.

“We should not be naive about their intent,” Kono said. “Nor should we be blinded by North Korea’s charm offensive. In short, it is not the time to ease pressure or to reward North Korea.”

Among those not invited to the Vancouver summit were delegates from China. Just a few days later, on Jan. 19, the reason for this exclusion became apparent when U.S. intelligence officials released photos of what they believed to be six Chinese vessels trading with North Korea, which would be in violation of existing UN sanctions.

The UN Security Council voted in August to ban nations from importing iron ore, coal, lead and seafood from North Korea, industries that generate $1 billion annually for the feeble economy. Much of the report suggests that China has continued its purchase of coal from the North, even days after the sanctions were instituted. Reports of North Korean seafood appearing in Chinese markets are also commonplace.

Even months after President Donald Trump’s infamous “fire and fury” comments, the threat of war on the Korean peninsula has not gone away, and tensions still appear to be high. Rhetoric remains charged and dictator Kim Jong Un retains his nuclear capabilities. Although clearly not reflective of the diplomatic reality, the upcoming Winter Olympic games will provide a more cooperative picture of North and South Korea, two nations desperately in need of just that.

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