U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and North Korean ceremonial head of state Kim Yong Nam sat at the same head table at a pre-Olympic reception dinner hosted by South Korean President Moon Jae-in, just hours before the opening ceremony of the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympic Games on Friday. Mike Pence had an awkward handshake with Kim Yong Nam, but did not lay his eyes on the North Korean nominal head of state. “There are also those who may not have been with us had it not been for the PyeongChang Winter Olympic Games,” said President Moon at the reception. "The most important fact is that we are here together. The fact that we are here together will mark the precious start of our first step toward global peace.”
An awkward encounter between the high-ranking officials of North Korea and the United States demonstrates an uncomfortable reality facing the Korean Peninsula. Although they sat at the same table, they were pitted against each other. North Korea is refusing to discuss denuclearization by showing off its nuclear missiles while the United States is implementing maximum pressure on North Korea for complete nuclear disarmament by North Korea. It is like President Moon Jae-in is sandwiched between the representatives by North Korea and the United States. President Moon met with U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres Friday and expressed his expectation for denuclearization and peace on the Korean Peninsula through North Korea-U.S. dialogue by saying, “I look forward to spring that will come after the Olympics.”
The North Korean delegation was greeted by South Korean Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon when they arrived at Incheon International Airport Friday afternoon. All attention was focused on Kim Yo Jong, younger sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and a member of the Mount Paektu Bloodline, rather than North Korea’s nominal head of state. It was easy to assume that Kim Yo Jong is more powerful than 90-year-old Kim Yong Nam as he politely offered her to take the seat first in front of South Korean unification minister. President Moon will meet with the North Korean delegation Saturday and invite them to a luncheon. Kim Yo Jong may deliver a message from her older brother as his special envoy. There is a "good chance" that Kim Yo Jong will invite Moon to North Korea on South Korea's Liberation Day to have the third inter-Korean summit, according to some foreign news media reports.
Unlike friendly mood building between the two Koreas, the United States is still giving North Korea the cold shoulder. Earlier on Friday, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence visited a memorial for 46 South Korean sailors killed in the sinking of a warship due to a North Korean torpedo attack and talked with North Korean defectors on the issue of North Korea’s human rights violation. The father of Otto Warmbier, who died after being released from a North Korean jail, accompanied the U.S. vice president. Pence said that the world would see “a charm offensive by North Korea. But we thought it was important to make sure the truth is told,” warning that countries should not be fooled by North Korea’s attempt to alienate South Korea from the United States and its peaceful gestures in disguise.
Athletes from the two Koreas marched under one flag at the opening ceremony. The theme of the ceremony was “Peace in Motion.” Unified Korean women's ice hockey team will play debut match Saturday. But peace on the Korean Peninsula cannot be achieved without thawed relations between North Korea and the United States. The PyeongChang Winter Olympics, which has brought the two Koreas and the United States together, should be the cornerstone for peace on the Korean Peninsula. And the peace-building should start from change of attitude by North Korea.