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Korean Unity at the Olympics

North Korea is making headlines...for a different reason than usual

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North Korean cheerleaders? Kim Yo Jong? A unified flag? What does this all mean?! Are the Olympics going to end the years and years of conflict between North and South Korea in just a few shorts weeks? Let’s investigate.

Friendliness between Kim Yo Jong and Moon Jae-in.

Moon Jae-in (of South Korea) and Kim Yo Jong (of North Korea) cheer on the joint Korean hockey team alongside International Olympic Committee President, Thomas Bach. Photo from KAZU.

Friday night saw a change in diplomatic relations between North and South Korea, all thanks to the Opening Ceremonies. Kim Jong Un’s younger sister, the first member of the ruling family to visit South Korea since the Korean War, sat right behind South Korean president, Moon Jae-in, throughout the whole ceremony and even shook his hand when he walked in. On Saturday, they met at the presidential palace in Seoul where she invited Jae-in to visit Pyongyang and meet with the DPRK president for the first time in more than a decade. The South Korean president did say that he wanted to use the Olympics as a way to strengthen the relationship between the two countries, so is it working?

Koreans Walk As One Country During the Opening Ceremony. 

North and South Korean athletes march together during the Opening Ceremonies. Photo credit to Time.

Instead of marching as two individual countries during the Opening Ceremonies, athletes showed unity and marched as one Korea, complete with a flag of the entire peninsula.  This is a far-cry from the 1988 Seoul Olympics when North Korea boycotted to make a stand against their long-time rival. The South Korean athletes smiled and took selfies with their North Korean counterparts during the Parade of Nations, showing that maybe they are more willingly to change than previously thought. But are they? The joint Olympic team does not necessarily reflect the views of all South Koreans, many of whom aren’t buying North Korea’s act of unity. Shawn Son, a Korean-American from Texas, told the New York Times, “I believe Olympic cooperation is a political show that North Korea managed to orchestrate by using their puppets in the South.” Sophomore Jena Yi, who has family in South Korea, also does not believe that Korean unity is achievable and said, “I think that since tension has been building up for so long, nothing will happen from this. It seems like a hoax to me.” While many Koreans are open to change and want to mend their relationship with their neighbors from the North, others are not buying it.

North Korean Cheerleaders: Propaganda or Peace?

North Korean cheerleaders cheer on athletes competing in the Olympic Games. Photo from Vox.

Groups of women dressed in head to toe red have been popping up in the stands at a number of the Olympic events, but who are they? They are a dance troupe of 229 cheerleaders from North Korea, sent by Kim Jong Un, as part of what many South Koreans think is a “charm offensive.” Throughout the Korea versus Switzerland women’s hockey game, they cheered “We are one!” and “Nice to meet you!” to the crowd, mesmerizing them with their synchronized choreography. They smiled and cheered in their seats, remaining in-synch despite the loud music playing in the arena. They may seem to be having a good time, but according to defector and former North Korean cheerleader, Han Seo-hee, they are closely monitored by security and not allowed to interact with foreigners unless they want to face consequences. She also said, “We were educated that we would be sent to South Korea not only to cheerlead but also to boast about our leader” (CNN). So are they actually there to cheer on the athletes or is it part of a much more sinister plan created by Kim Jong Un?

A Unified Korean Flag. 

This is pretty self-explanatory, so I’ll just let these pictures do the talking:

The large flag shows the entire Korean peninsula and represents a unified country. Photo from The New York Times.

Could the Winter Olympics be the cause of unity between North and South Korea after more than 60 years of conflict? Only time will tell.

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Korean Unity at the Olympics