Tears and hugs after North and South Korean women won the 1991 team table tennis world championships. A standing ovation when athletes from the two Koreas marched together to open the 2000 Sydney Olympics. A selfie taken by a South Korean gymnast with her North Korean opponent that went viral at last year’s Rio de Janeiro Games.
Seven months ahead of the Pyeongchang Olympics, South Korea’s new liberal President Moon Jae-in hopes the first Winter Games on Korean soil could produce more of these feel-good sparks of seeming reconciliation and pave the wave for deep engagement to ease the rivals’ 72-year standoff.
In a good development for Moon, IOC President Thomas Bach on Monday expressed his support for Moon’s overture while North Korea recently allowed its taekwondo demonstration team to perform in the South in the Koreas’ first sports exchanges since Moon’s May 10 inauguration.
But there is also plenty of skepticism about Moon’s efforts because of a serious escalation in North Korean nuclear and missile arsenals North Korea on Tuesday test-fired a missile likely capable of striking Alaska and a weak North Korean winter sports program that sent only two athletes to the 2010 Vancouver Games and none to the 2014 Sochi Games. Sydney and Rio were both Summer Olympics.
North Korea’s only IOC member, Chang Ung, said last week that cooperation on the Pyeongchang Games could prove hard considering the shortage of time and difficult politics.
What follows is an examination of South Korea’s attempt to make North Korea a key part of the Olympics set for Feb. 9-25.