There is a great deal of discussion around the unified Korean team at this year’s Winter Olympics. For some people, it is a wonderful sign of the hope for peace in that region. For other people it is the equivalent of putting a new coat of paint on a junk car that deserves to be thrown out.
Undoubtedly, geopolitical issues are highly complicated, and surely there are many layers of thought that went into this issue for both the North Koreans and South Koreans. However, I would like to submit some thoughts to you this week as to why I would not have agreed to this arrangement if I was South Korea.
The first reason is rather obvious. It is great that the North Koreans have some athletes that they want to have compete in the Olympics. For those athletes individually, I am glad they have the opportunity to compete. Just like anyone else, they have trained their entire lives to become very good at particular sports. When I say what I am about to say, this is not a personal reflection on any individual athlete from North Korea.
The first reason that North and South Korea should not have combined for these Olympics is that North Korea is still one of the worst human rights abusers in the world. Their own people are running away to get to South Korea because of how terrible conditions are in the North. By presenting some kind of false front that North and South Korea are some type of united front is ignorant at the very least. South Korea is a normal country, certainly imperfect I am sure, but reasonably good to its people.
By presenting this image that there is some kind of united Korea simply is not reality. While the people in the countries very well might want a unified Korea, the fact that they are marching under the same flag at the very least implies some type of shared national identity. This is not a statement made at the level of individuals in North and South Korea. This is a statement made by leadership at the country level.
I assume that a large part of the rationale to march under the one Korea flag was to hypothetically reflect the will of the normal Korean person who wants tensions to be reduced in their respective countries. I would want that too if I was a Korean citizen on either side. However, the raising of a united flag is a political gesture, and when we are talking about international relations, we need to think on the level of national policy.
Thinking about this from a different perspective, I suppose the argument could be made that North and South Korea competing together is very much like the former Soviet Union were multiple nations were combined into one conglomerate entity. However, they actually were under the same regime. They were members of the Soviet Union, so there were shared political ideas that united them and made it appropriate to follow under the same manner. North and South Korea are fundamentally different from each other, so making a political statement implies that there is some degree of political agreement which there is not.
I know this is probably not the image South Korea was trying to portray by any means, but I do not think it was a wise political move to make, not a personal gesture, but a gesture on the national level that implies some type of unification. There is nothing like that present in the way North Korea currently exists.