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February 8, 2018

Olympic diplomacy


February 8, 2018

The flame of the Winter Olympics has helped thaw the frosty relations between North and South Korea. But the question is: how long will this last?

In an increasingly divided Korean Peninsula, every effort is being made to rekindle the desire for national reconciliation and unification through this event. On February 9, the world will witness athletes from these theoretically-warring countries marching under one flag. For this occasion, a North Korean orchestra is tuning up its instruments to perform the greatest symphonies while singers are warming up their voices for folk songs and masterpieces. As the curtains will be drawn on February 25, the world will be left with only a few reasons to remain optimistic about the peace initiative.

The short-term sports diplomacy was launched following the 5,100-word New Year message from Kim Jong-Un. The North Korean leader set aside a portion of his speech on examining the tense situation in the Korean Peninsula and how it can be improved. He foresees that the region can never escape the holocaust of a nuclear war without addressing the ‘abnormal’ situation. Announcing the participation of his country’s athletes in the Winter Olympics that are being held in PyeongChang, Kim Jong-Un said it was time that both sides sit face-to-face with a view to hold sincere discussions over the issue of improving inter-Korean relations by “our nation itself” and seek a way out for its settlement in a bold manner.

Seoul reciprocated by saying that the inter-Korean dialogue would enable the PyeongChang event to become a successful peace games, serve as the basis for the denuclearisation dialogue and alleviate military tensions. To make the climate favourable for national concord, South Korea postponed the war exercises with the US and is making efforts to avoid being billed as the first country to cancel the Winter Olympics.

As the sports diplomacy has gained momentum in Korea, we can expect anything but the supreme leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to attend the opening ceremony.

Due to the doping scandal, Russia is not participating in an official capacity at the Winter Olympics. But almost 400 Russians will individually compete in different games. Even the host and its allies, including Japan, are excited that athletes who have dedicated their entire lives to sports will not miss the opportunity to win medals. However, they are equally happy – along with Britain and the US – that Russia won’t bag the gold medal.

The credit for the games goes, to some extent, to Moscow and Beijing who persuaded Kim Jong-Un to make an offer for talks with South Korea. But this Winter Olympics is a feather in Trump’s cap. The US president pursued quiet diplomacy to defuse the escalating situation in a region that is on edge.

This year, both the North and South Koreans are also marking the 70th anniversary of their founding day and it is a good omen that the motto of Winter Olympics has generated a passion to bring Koreans together. The government of both countries and the older generations are vying for the reunification as Koreans as a nation. But a majority of the first and second generation of South Koreans only want friendly relations with North Korea.

As a matter of fact, realism is taking over emotionalism and the strategic interests of the neighbouring countries are also against this ideal approach. China, the main benefactor of Pyongyang, will only allow the reunification of both Koreas if South Korea expels the US army. Washington can’t buy this idea as it doesn’t want to lose its position of strength.

Last year, Pakistan and India had also observed their 70th anniversary. Saarc, which was supposed to bring both countries closer, failed to do so due to the growing hostilities between Pakistan and India over pending issues. Cricket diplomacy tried to break the ice between both countries and even former US president George W Bush encouraged this method by playing a few strokes in his Islamabad Embassy. But the larger issues between both countries put everything else on the backburner.

The PyeongChang Olympics diplomacy has the potential to open a new chapter in the inter-Korean relationship. However, it seems that the real Olympics are being played by six parties involved in the Korean crisis. This explains why a climate of fear still looms large. By evoking the sentiments for the Korean reunification, the clever and charismatic Kim Jong-un is buying time to strengthen his missile programme and test his armour while his South Korean counterpart is securing a global event by, superficially, giving diplomacy a chance.

By the end of March, as the US-South Korea exercises begin, we must expect Pyongyang to return to testing ballistic missiles as whatever will be gained in a few weeks can be lost in the blink of an eye. Sustainable peace can be achieved if North Korea adds to the good vibes by reunifying war-torn families and releasing at least a few foreign abductees. Meanwhile, the US should further postpone the war games.

The writer is a senior journalistassociated with Geo News.

Email: [email protected]

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