A Troubling Olympics Lies Ahead

      January 19, 2018 13:41

      Strange things are happening on the Korean Peninsula just three weeks before the start of the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang. North Korea is preparing a massive military parade on Feb. 8, marking the 70th anniversary of its standing army, a day before the Olympics starts. One Canadian-owned organization in China that pushes exchanges with North Korea has already started selling package tours for the parade, with the option of moving on to South Korea for the Olympics. It must appeal to an interesting niche market. Normally North Korea celebrates the army anniversary on April 25, so it is blatantly obvious what it is up to. It wants to flaunt its nuclear power and try to steal the show, with a strong message that it has no intention of giving up its nukes, Olympics or no Olympics.

      South Korea is taking the exact opposite tack. A U.S. nuclear-powered submarine that was trying to dock in Busan was apparently shooed away for fear of agitating North Korea and told to dock discreetly at Jinhae, which further out of the international eye. Instead, the U.S. decided to skip the port call altogether, though how miffed it was is unknown.

      Major sporting events often take on political significance. Ping-pong played a major role in getting the U.S. and China to form diplomatic ties, and the Winter Olympics this year could be meaningful in at least getting North Korea to halt its provocations for the time being. But for Pyeongchang, politics is becoming the sole concern while sports is being pushed backstage. How can we let the Olympics become a propaganda opportunity for the world's most oppressive state? The North's Masikryong Ski Resort, where the South has offered to send budding skiers to train, was built using child labor. As for forming a unified women's ice hockey team, which the government may have thought was sufficiently leftfield to upset nobody, a poll by Korea Research earlier this month showed that 72.2 percent of respondents were against if it could hamper South Korean players. That rose to 82.2 percent among people, yet the Moon Jae-in administration pushed ahead with the plan.

      But even as the queasy honeymoon takes its course, the nuclear standoff is getting more serious. The U.S. Navy's nuclear-powered aircraft carrier John C. Stennis set sail on Tuesday and is heading toward the Korean Peninsula. There is now a strong chance that three U.S. aircraft carrier armadas will converge in the region. Six U.S. strategic bombers have been stationed in Guam, and the New York Times reported that the military is "quietly preparing for war." U.S. President Donald Trump said Wednesday he is open to talks with North Korea, but "I'm not sure that sitting down will solve the problem." It seems that few believe that the Olympics will serve as an opportunity for North Korea to change its attitude and give up its missile and nuclear programs. And what is Seoul doing?

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