Posted June. 26, 2017 07:19,
Updated June. 26, 2017 07:34
President Moon Jae-in on Saturday proposed that the two Koreas form a unified team for the 2018 Winter Olympics to be held in South Korea's PyeongChang in February next year. In his congratulatory speech marking the opening of the World Taekwondo Championships in Muju, North Jeolla Province. President Moon said he hoped to "see the glory" of the World Table Tennis Championships and the FIFA U-20 World Cup in 1999 when the two Koreas formed a single national team for the first time ever and showed the best performance. He seemed to have expressed his hope to make a breakthrough in the deadlocked inter-Korean relations through the first sports exchanges following the launch of his administration.
President Moon has a point in his portrayal of sports as the most powerful tool of peace that would bring down all barriers. In fact, the unified Korean table tennis team of South Korea's Hyun Jung-hwa and North Korea's Ri Pun-hui clinched the gold medal in women's team events at the 1991 World Table Tennis Championships held in Chiba, Japan, uniting the two Koreas as one in celebrating the championship. From the 2000 Sydney Olympics until the 2007 Changchun Asian Winter Games, North and South Korean athletes marched together into the arena holding the Korean Peninsula flag, creating a mood of reconciliation between the two Koreas. However, North Korea not only conducted nuclear and missile tests but also brutally killed a South Korean tourist in 2008, causing a freeze in the inter-Korean relations.
It is questionable whether it would be practically possible to form a unified Korean team for the 2018 Winter Olympics, which is just seven months away. The North has won quotas for any event other than figure skating. Even Chang Ung, a North Korean member of the International Olympic Committee, who is visiting South Korea for the Taekwondo event, said that it would not be easy to form a unified Korean team and too late to co-host the PyeongChang Olympic Winter Games. "Politics is above sports," he said, adding that the U.S.-China ping pong diplomacy in the 1970s was possible on the solid ground of politics between the countries. His remarks are interpreted as a message that a political environment must be created first between the two Koreas before forming a joint Olympic team.
President Moon may intend to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue through conciliatory and cooperative events such as sports events, reunions of separated families and an event marking the 10th anniversary of the October 4, 2004 inter-Korean joint summit declaration. However, North Korea's official newspaper Rodong Sinmun said in its Sunday edition that it is "futile delusion" for South Korea to try to resolve the North's nuclear issue, which the paper claimed is a matter between Pyongyang and Washington. On Friday, the North's Committee for the Peaceful Reunification issued nine-point "open questions" to South Korea, calling for a halt to South Korea-U.S. joint military exercises, a dialogue with the North without raising the nuclear issue, and withdrawal of sanctions on the North. Even though Kim Jong Un is determined never to abandon the North's nuclear and missile development, Moon's impatience in inter-Korean dialogue could end up weakening Seoul's negotiating power with Pyongyang. The inter-Korean relations do not always go as intended, no matter how much we hurry.