North and South Korea have long been at odds, so when athletes from both nations walked under the same flag at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics opening ceremony on Friday the world paid attention. Would the moment work to help soothe tensions?
At PyeongChang Olympic Stadium in the South Korean city, flag bearers (North Korean ice hockey player Hwang Chung-gum and South Korean bobsledder Won Yun-jong, according to The Hollywood Reporter) waved a large white "unification" flag with the blue Korean peninsula in the middle.
The other individual athletes carried smaller versions:
In addition to marching under a unified Korean flag, the countries are set to join forces on the Olympic women’s ice-hockey team, the first-ever Olympic team comprised of members representing both North and South Korea. The last time athletes from both nations competed on the same team was a 1991 international table-tennis championship and youth soccer tournament.
While it wasn't the first time North and South Korea stood under the same flag (they last united for the 2007 Asian Winter Games), a joint Olympic team is an unprecedented step toward unification. And in another historic moment Friday, South Korean President Moon Jae-in shook hands with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s younger sister, Kim Yo Jong, as they prepared to view the opening ceremony.
Although the United States and North Korea have been hurling threats at one another since Donald Trump stepped into office, South Korea remains a strong ally for the U.S. A lessening of hostility between the two Koreas could, therefore, benefit America as well.
However, many South Korean citizens have opposed the idea of bringing the two nations together, the New York Times reports, in part due to the country's policies standing worlds apart from their neighbor to the north's regime: "These days, younger South Koreans, in particular, are far more likely to see the idea of reintegrating their prosperous capitalist democracy with the impoverished, totalitarian North as unrealistic and undesirable."
Talk of combining teams was broached ahead of the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul but did not happen. Now, in South Korea’s second round hosting the international sporting event, it seems the friction between the nations may drop to its lowest point in decades.