Despite the diplomatic “thaw” that made North Korean participation in the Winter Olympics possible and a general media atmosphere of excitement around Pyongyang’s relative openness after years of defiant isolation, South Korean officials say North Korea has not responded to their call for military talks.
“We continue to wait for a response,” South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman Choi Hyun-soo said on Tuesday. “There is nothing specific going on now but we will let you know immediately when (the talks) start.”
The administration of South Korean President Moon Jae-in denied opposition charges that North Korea has “hijacked” the Winter Olympics through announcements of a joint Korean ice hockey team, a joint Olympic march under one flag, a joint orchestra performance, a whirlwind media tour by a North Korean pop singer (and reputed former mistress of Kim Jong-un) who sings about the joys of loyal service to the regime, and South Korean athletes sent to a North Korean ski resort for (non-Olympic) training.
The Games are to be held in the South Korean town of Pyeongchang, but detractors have been sarcastically referring to them as the “Pyongyang Olympics.”
The decision to field a joint women’s ice hockey team has proven especially controversial among South Koreans, pulling President Moon’s approval rating down to a four-month low and prompting a few demonstrations in Seoul.
A picture of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un was burned at one protest, prompting an outraged response from North Korea: “We will never tolerate hideous acts of the conservative hooligans who insulted the sacred dignity and symbol of the DPRK and the dishonest behavior of the South Korean authorities who connived at such acts.” (DPRK is North Korea’s preferred name for itself.)
Also unhelpful was North Korea’s decision to suddenly change the official anniversary date for the founding of its military from April 25 to February 8 – which means a huge North Korean military parade, and perhaps even more provocative actions, will be held one day before the Winter Olympics begin. A South Korean official said on Tuesday that about 13,000 troops and 200 pieces of military equipment have been sighted massing at an airport near Pyongyang, presumably for a parade.
“Just one month ago, acute tensions gripped the Korean peninsula, but the administration’s efforts to tackle the crisis through dialogue has led to North Korea’s participation in the Olympics,” a spokesman for President Moon stated. “We’re confident that the Olympics will be a stepping stone to bring peace to the Korean peninsula, to Northeast Asia and the world.”
“Forgive us if we don’t start stocking up on Korean unity flags,” the editors of the Chicago Tribune retorted in a Monday editorial, noting that North Korea is “adept at the game of freeze and thaw,” including prior uses of splashy Olympic Games unity celebrations as delaying tactics to protect its relentless nuclear ambitions.
“South Korean athletes who have endured years of early morning workouts and aching bodies will march into Pyeongchang Olympic Stadium not under their own flag, but under a unity banner – a blue Korean Peninsula on a white background. The Olympics are about moments. Will that moment feel right to those athletes and their countrymen? Or will they feel sold out?” the Tribune asked.
That would seem to capture the attitude of South Koreans who are grumbling about the “Pyongyang Games” and wondering if any real concessions for peace will ever emerge from the Kim regime.
Former Noth Korean spy Kim Hyon-hu warned on Tuesday that North Korea is “using the Olympics as a weapon” to weaken international resolve against its nuclear weapons program, and dismissed the joint Korean Olympic team as a cynical “publicity stunt for Kim Jong-un.”
“It’s trying to escape the sanctions by holding hands with South Korea, trying to break free from international isolation,” she said of North Korea’s intentions.
Kim Hyon-hui spoke from experience; she planted a bomb that killed 115 people aboard a South Korean flight in 1987 on the orders of Kim Jong-un’s father, Kim Jong-il. The elder Kim wanted to disrupt the 1988 Seoul Olympics and weaken the South Korean government. She was taken into custody before she could commit suicide as instructed by the regime, but the South Korean government concluded she was a brainwashed victim of North Korea’s monstrous evil and pardoned her from a death sentence.