Relations seem to be warming between North and South Korea, with the two long-time enemies set to march, train and even compete together at next month's Winter Olympics.
Following days of high-level talks, North and South Korea have agreed to march under a unified flag at the Winter Olympics opening ceremony next month.
They will also form a combined women’s ice hockey team, and the North intends to send 230 supporters that will cheer for all Korean athletes, a sign relations between the two nations are improving.
North and South Korean skiers will also train together at a resort in North Korea before the South Korea-hosted Games begin, and performers from both countries will hold a joint cultural event there.
The Korean Unification Flag, featuring a blue profile of the peninsula and surrounding islands, was first used at the 1991 table tennis world championships, and on rare occasions has been brought out since, including at the opening ceremony of the 2000 Sydney Olympics where it was met with a standing ovation.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) still needs to approve the plans but has indicated support for the North’s participation. Delegates from the two countries are expected to meet with IOC officials on Saturday in Switzerland.
“We are sure that the two Korean delegations will present their ideas and proposals at the meeting on Saturday in Lausanne. This will then enable the IOC to carefully evaluate the consequences and the potential impact on the Olympic Games and the Olympic competitions,” the IOC said in a statement.
Are tensions easing?
While unification at the Pyeongchang Games is a positive step forward, experts have warned that the diplomacy most likely starts and ends with the sporting spectacle, and will have no impact on Kim Jong-un’s warmongering.
“Despite these overtures to improve relations with the South, North Korea has yet to show any intention to fulfil its international obligations regarding denuclearisation,” said South Korea’s Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha.
John Park, director of the Korea Working Group at the Harvard Kennedy School, agrees. “Both Koreas are primarily utilising the talks for a limited objective — arranging the participation of a North Korean delegation in the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics,” he said.
Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono went a step further at a summit in Vancouver on Tuesday, suggesting that the meetings at Peace House in the Demilitarised Zone, are a tactic from the North to divert attention from its nuclear program.
“I believe that North Korea wants to buy some time to continue their nuclear and missile programs,” Kono said at the meeting. “It’s not the time to ease pressure towards North Korea.”
Top US diplomat Rex Tillerson also urged delegates from the 20 countries present not to be distracted by the goings-on in Panmunjom. “We all need to be very sober and clear-eyed about the current situation,” he said.