SEOUL, Jan. 18 (Korea Bizwire) — The South Korean government is being criticized for pushing for a showcase of inter-Korean unity at the PyeongChang Olympics through a series of high-level talks.
Dialogue between the two Koreas continues over the logistics of North Korea’s participation in the Winter Olympics next month, as officials from Seoul and Pyongyang have agreed to march together with a united Korean flag and form a joint inter-Korean women’s ice hockey team.
While the rest of the world cautiously follows up on the progress made between the two countries over the last few weeks, many South Koreans are not happy with North Korea’s ever-increasing role at the upcoming Olympics.
A recent survey conducted by SBS and the office of the Speaker of the National Assembly shows over 7 in 10 South Koreans agree that an ‘inter-Korean team should not be forced,’ while only 27 percent said an inter-Korean team would be ideal.
Young people in particular strongly oppose the idea, with over 82 percent of the respondents in their 20s and 30s expressing disapproval, two of the main age groups that make up President Moon Jae-in’s voting base.
Reports yesterday that South Korean and North Korean athletes will walk in the Parade of Nations under a united flag dominated headlines, prompting conservative politician Hong Jun-pyo to question whether the current administration is organizing the Winter Olympics in Pyongyang, instead of PyeongChang.
Controversy over Women’s Ice Hockey Team
In the midst of controversy is a newly formed inter-Korean women’s ice hockey team.
During his visit to the National Training Center in Jincheon on Wednesday, President Moon was quoted saying the team “will provide a much better chance to develop the South-North Korea relationship than North Korea’s simple participation would.”
With the Winter Games less than a month away however, the last minute decision to compete in ice hockey together with North Korean athletes has sparked heated debates, as well as hundreds of online petitions calling on the president to scrap the plan.
Speaking to reporters at Incheon International Airport yesterday, Sarah Murray, the head coach of the South Korean women’s national hockey team, said she was ‘shocked’ by the decision, noting that the team would suffer inevitable ‘damage’ as a result.
“It’s hard because the players have earned their spots and they think they deserve to go to the Olympics. Then you have people being added later. It definitely affects our players,” Murray said.
Adding fuel to the fire was Prime Minister Lee Nak-yeon’s remark suggesting that adding a few North Korean players to South Korea’s current 23-player roster would not be an issue because the women’s ice hockey team is unlikely to contend for a medal.
Government Accused of Being ‘Weak’
Opposition party members were quick to seize on the growing controversy, including lawmaker Yoo Seong-min from the Bareun Party.
“President Moon said the united Korean team will be ‘such a sight’ to go down in history, but making individuals sacrifice for making a ‘sight’ is a totalitarian idea,” Yoo said.
The government has had a week mired in criticism after backtracking on a number of issues including bans on cryptocurrency trades and afterschool English classes at preschools, prompting calls for a more consistent and discreet policy-making process.
As high-level talks with the North are set to continue over the upcoming days, controversy surrounding North Korea’s role at the PyeongChang Olympics is expected to be one of the biggest challenges facing the Moon Administration.
Despite the latest developments in talks with North Korea, ongoing work for a second submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) test has been reported by U.S. expert Joseph S. Bermudez Jr. on the 38 North website.
Earlier this week, a column published by state-owned news agency Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) warned that the South Korean media should choose its words wisely unless it wanted to see a ‘party turn into a funeral’.
Hyunsu Yim (firstname.lastname@example.org)