United by the Olympics

Korean students celebrate thaw in relations, cautiously hopeful of peace


Courtesy of Creative Commons

The unified Korean team marching in the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics at Pyeongchang Olympic Stadium on February 9.

Aaron Deans, Online Editor

The deep political divisions between nations of North and South Korea were put aside February as both countries united for the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

At the opening ceremony, North and South Korean athletes marched into the Pyeongchang’s Olympic stadium under a unified flag displaying the Korean peninsula in blue with no divide between the nations. The also Koreas formed a joint women’s hockey team.

The collaboration between the two countries event was an curious development for Branham’s Korean population.

Kelley Sheen, Branham alumnus and former Bear Witness editor in chief, said that she sees a thaw in relations between the two countries, but is not optimistic for any long-term resolution.

“I just don’t think that reunification’s ever going to happen,” she said.  “[North Korea has] the opportunity to show off their players, they have the opportunity to collab with [South Korea], but it’s not going to be something that’s like ‘Oh, North and South Korea are getting together again!’ We all think it’s great, but in the end, we know that reunification isn’t possible.”

Sophomore Eddie Kim posted frequently Because of his background as a speed skater, sophomore Eddie Kim was enthusiastic for speed skating in this year’s Olympics.  When informed of the Koreas’ hockey team-up, he thought that the collaboration would only serve to fuel further issues between the nations.

“I think both of them participating in the Winter Olympics might create more conflict in the future after the games, and especially even with the US being part of the problem, I think it’s gonna heighten the tension between all three.”

Upon crossing the border into South Korea, the North Korean athletes quickly encountered mixed reactions: a welcome from their South Korean teammates, as well as conservative activists nearby protesting against Pyongyang, according to ABC News.

Sophomore Kyley Martinez, co-president of Branham’s Liberty in North Korea club (LINK), thought the collaboration would have positive results, and might be a sign of emerging cooperation between the Koreas.

History teacher and LINK advisor Brett Johanson also suggested that something such as an Olympic team-up could have positive results specifically for the women on the team.

“It has the potential to be a very positive experience,” he said.  “Similar efforts have been made between Israelis and Palestinians in the past, and the participants often come to find common ground and establish positive dialog.  The same will hopefully happen in this case.”

While the prospect of a unified Korean team and the picture of a unified flag might suggest improved political relations between the two countries in the future, other incidents show how complicated the matter is.  In 1986, North Korea requested to co-host the 1988 Olympics with South Korea. When South Korea declined, North Korea responded by bombing a Korean Air flight, whose passengers were mostly South Koreans, in 1987.

Johanson mentioned North Korea’s unpredictability as part of the issue.

“[Cooperation between the Koreas in the Olympics won’t affect relations] at the decision-making level of government,” he said. “In order for that to take place, you would have to be dealing with rational players and Kim Jong-un is not rational.”

For this year’s Olympics, the two countries originally had a joint cultural performance planned in North Korea prior to the Olympics.  However, North Korea called the event off, apparently in response to criticism from South Korean media. In addition, the joint team with North Korea has been met with some disapproval by South Koreans, particularly younger citizens, according to the The Atlantic.

Sophomore Sabrina Pan believed that reactions will certainly be mixed.

“I think some Koreans will be unaffected and others a little irritated. In the end, if they want to win, they need to work together, so hopefully their opinions will be set aside when the Olympics start,” she said.

This isn’t the first time the Koreas have collaborated in sports.  Unified Korean teams have competed in a few events, such as the world tennis championships in Chiba, Japan in 1991.  In some Olympic games, including Sydney in 2000 and Athens in 2000, the athletes from both countries have marched together.

While acknowledging that the collaboration likely wouldn’t have much of an effect on relations between the nations, Pan thought it could have a positive outcome if all goes well.