The Symbolic Ceremonial Olympic March Of The Koreas: What Does It Mean For Diplomacy?

On February 9th, 2018, the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang began. During the commencement ceremonies, an event took place that baffled and amazed many – North and South Korean athletes walked out together under a unification flag. In addition, North Korean athletes were added to roasters to compete alongside South Korean athletes. Amidst the increasingly tense relations between the Koreas and the United States (US), this joint march has the potential to be a symbolic landmark.

The event follows after continuously rising strains between the US and North Korea. Last week, for example, the American President, Donald Trump, declared a plan that would impose the toughest sanctions on North Korea to this date. Following this, North Korea had a military parade that showcased a large arsenal of weapons, as well as an impressive discipline in its military. It seems as though through this display, North Korea was hoping to send a message to the US and the numerous other nations trying to dismantle its regime. The parade is confirmation from the North Korean side that they believe to hold the power, strength, and technology to not give in to the resistance against their regime and dictatorship.

Pence, also at the Olympic opening ceremony, seemed unmoved by this. According to The New York Times, he purposely missed a dinner in the area celebrating the beginning of the games – presumably to avoid interacting with the North Korean delegates that would be in attendance. Vice President Pence also suggested that South Korea cut all ties with North Korea after the winter Olympics, and was unhopeful that any political change would flourish out of this symbolic reunification of the Koreas during the games.

On the other hand, however, South Korean President Moon Jae-in sees the symbolic Olympic walk very differently. He claims that this kind of display between the two Koreas could be a push for further diplomatic talks between the nations, and an eventual gateway to convincing North Korea to reduce their nuclear arsenal. 

Although the temporary joint display of South and North Korean athletes was moving for many, it is hard to say if this gesture will actually lead to any kind of tangible change. The two countries have previously walked out together in Olympic ceremonies in 2000, 2004, and 2006 as well – all of which were not followed by diplomatic and/or domestic political change. However, 2018 seems different. North Korea claims to have nuclear weapons that could reach American soil, and the tension between the two Koreas has never been higher as South Korea has increasingly embraced the American vision of how to deal with the conflict. With this being said, the 2018 Olympic ceremony is not to be undermined, as it could potentially be a major milestone in international affairs. Hopefully, diplomatic talks can arise from this and guide North Korea in a different, more cooperative direction.