Geopolitical Issues a Big Concern in PyeongChang

2018 Winter Olympics Pyeongchang

Nuclear tensions intensify around the Olympics

Protestor Tears North Korean Flag
Source: AP Photo/Jae C. Hong

South Korean Protestor Tears Image of North Korean Flag

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Tensions with North Korea Rise

Political unrest appeared in Pyeongchang roughly a year ago; however, the true security concern is in regards to the tension with North Korea. The security concerns intensified in September when North Korea's Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho alleged that US President Donald Trump had declared war on the country. Such a declaration would be grounds for North Korea to defend itself by any means necessary. Amid the tensions between the US and North Korea, France threatened to pull all athletes from the Winter Olympic Games if their safety could not be guaranteed. The UN ensured each country that safety was the number one priority of the International Olympic Committee. 

Despite these reassurances, Nikki R. Haley (the American envoy to the UN) stated in December that it was a possibility that American athletes would be pulled from the Games due to safety. However, not long after this statement was made, Sarah Sanders (White House Press Secretary) tweeted: "The U.S. looks forward to participating in the Winter Olympics in South Korea." It was later explained that talks of the US not participating in the Games had never occurred. 

North Korea's Participation in the Games

Though it was stated that figure skaters Ryom Tae-ok and Kim Ju-sik had qualified for the Winter Games, it was still unclear as to whether North Korea would participate. After missing the October 30 deadline to enter these two athletes, it appeared North Korea would not be participating after all. On January 1, Kim Jung-un suggested that South Korea meet with him to discuss the country's participation and easing tension between the two militaries. 

President Moon strongly urged Kim Jong-un to allow his athletes to participate in the competition. President Moon even suggested the two teams march together during the Opening Ceremony, something that has been done in the past. On January 9, North Korea did eventually agree to negotiations with neighboring country, South Korea, stating that it will send qualified athletes to the Winter Olympics. The two countries are to march together in the Opening Ceremony under the Korean Unification Flag. There will also be a single united Korean team in women's ice hockey. 

However, not all issues have been resolved. At the end of January, North Korea cancelled its participation in all performances scheduled with South Korea before the Games. North Korea cancelled the performances in response to "unflattering coverage" by the South Korean Media, according to CNN. It is unclear as to whether other planned events will be cancelled in light of this new issue. 

North Korea to Parade Missiles

In November 2017, North Korea successfully launched a long-range missile. The success created a panic around the world, as the threat of nuclear war became more immediate. At the end of January, less than two weeks before the first day of the Winter Olympics, it was revealed by diplomatic sources that North Korea would be parading long-range missiles the day before the Games. One source claims the display of hundreds of missiles is specifically intended to scare Americans. There are also expected to be dozens of intercontinental-range Hwasong-15 missiles, the missile that was successfully launched in November. 

North Korea claims the parade is simply a celebration of its military's 70th anniversary. Outside media has been banned from attending and covering the parade. 

 

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