Tag Archive | "Olympics"

Public Support for Inter-Korean Sports Diplomacy Cools

This briefing comes from Korea View, a weekly newsletter published by the Korea Economic Institute. Korea View aims to cover developments that reveal trends on the Korean Peninsula but receive little attention in the United States. If you would like to sign up, please find the online form here.

What Happened

  • President Moon Jae-in met with the head of the International Olympic Committee to seek his support for a joint Korean bid for hosting the 2032 Summer Olympics.
  • During the meeting, Moon also advocated for North and South Korea to compete as one team in the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.
  • The two Koreas most recently played as a unified team in the 2019 World Handball Championship.

Implications: While President Moon sees joint participation in international sporting events as a vehicle to advance inter-Korean engagement, tepid domestic support for these efforts correspond with findings that South Koreans may be losing their co-ethnic affinity to North Koreans. A survey in 2018 found that public endorsement for North and South Korea’s co-hosting the Olympics fell from 66% to 47% if respondents were told that Seoul would help fund the construction of facilities in North Korea. This upholds findings that suggest South Koreans, particularly younger cohorts, are beginning to identify the two Koreas as distinct and separate countries. If true, this presents an obstacle for the Moon administration even if there is a diplomatic breakthrough as there might be domestic pushback to allocating national resources for the economic development of North Korea.

Context: South Korea already faced domestic backlash for fielding a late-minute unified hockey team to compete at the Pyeongchang Olympics in 2018. A survey found that 80% of respondents generally supported North Korea’s participation in the games, but 49.4% of people polled by a Realmeter survey showed a preference for North and South Korea marching under their respective national flags. These results suggest that animosity toward North Korea is not the source of South Korean tepidness towards joint participation in sporting events – rather, it may be an acknowledgement of a separate and distinct national identity.

Korea View was edited by Yong Kwon with the help of Soojin Hwang, Hyoshin Kim, and Rachel Kirsch.

Picture via James Hill published in The New York Times

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From Colonial Korea to United Korea in the Olympic Games

By Seok Lee

After the Panmunjom Declaration, Chairman of the State Affairs Commission of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea Kim Jong-un and President of the Republic of Korea Moon Jae-in held an historic North-South summit in Pyongyang from September 18 to 20, 2018. They discussed a broad range of topics such as nuclear weapons, demilitarization, the economy, and family reunions and agreed to develop peace and common prosperity in a consistent and sustained way. In this historic summit, most mass media paid attention to the security issues that has been haunting the Peninsula for around 70 years. However, one of the interesting clauses in the declaration is that the North and South agreed to cooperate on a joint North-South bid to host the 2032 Summer Olympics.

South Korea has been a sporting powerhouse in the Olympic Games. Since the 1984 Summer Olympics, South Korea has consistently ranked in the top 10 Summer Olympic medal count. The opening of the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics provided an opportunity for South Korea to become the fifth nation to host the world’s four biggest sporting competitions: the Summer Olympics, the Winter Olympics, the FIFA World Cup, and the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) World Championships in Athletics.

Since the 1980s, the Olympics have provided an excellent opportunity for South Koreans to boast of the power of the Korean nation, a nation that had been largely absent from the world stage since its annexation by Japan in 1910. But Korea’s Olympic history extends beyond South Korea’s recent success at the Games to the colonial period. Although they were officially Japanese, three ethnic Korean athletes—Kim Ŭnbae (Marathon), Kwŏn T’aeha (Marathon), and Hwang Ŭlsu (Boxing)—participated in the 1932 LA Games and were acclaimed as national heroes, being the first Koreans in the nation’s history to compete in the Olympic Games.

Among colonial Korea’s sports stars, Son Kijŏng, the winner of the 1936 Berlin Olympic marathon, stands out as an unsung hero. His gold medal evoked the rabid national sentiment in his fatherland. The Tonga ilbo and the Chosŏn chungang ilbo, the representative Korean vernacular newspapers of the time, blotted out the Japanese flag on his sweatshirt in a photograph of Son on the awards podium, reflecting most Koreans’ national sentiment. The “Japanese Flag Erasure Incident” (Ilchang’gi malso sakŏn) provoked the brutal punishment of the reporters responsible by the Japanese colonial government. Many of them were tortured, put in jail, and laid off.  This story resonated with heroic Korean nationalism and became a part of Korean (sports) history. Indeed, it is still engraved in Koreans’ memory today as the culmination of Korean resistance against Japanese colonialism through sports. In addition, we should not overlook Korean participants other than Son. Before Son’s race in Berlin, three Korean speed skaters—Kim Chŏngyŏn, Yi Sŏngdŏk, and Chang Usik—participated in 1936 Garmisch-Partenkirchen Winter Games. In Berlin, Nam Sŭngnyong (Marathon) won a bronze medal. Kim Yongsik (Soccer), Yi Kyuhwan (Boxing), Yi Sŏnggu (Basketball), Chang Ijin (Basketball), and Yŏm Ŭnhyŏn (Basketball) should be added to the list of Korean Olympians during the colonial period.

The Nazi Games were not the end of colonial Korea’s Olympic fever. The 1940 Olympic Games were awarded to Tokyo by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in 1936. The Japanese empire hoped to host the games to deflect international criticism of its bellicosity caused by the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937–1945) and also to celebrate the 2,600th anniversary of the legendary founding of the Japanese empire by Emperor Jimmu (kigen) in 660 BCE, thereby enhancing nationalism. As soon as Tokyo won the bid, colonial Korea was quick to make the best use of the Olympics for its own sake. The Olympics were not only about sports, but also about a variety of social concerns in colonial Korea: transportation, national security, tourism, and sports facilities, among others. The colonial government and Japanese leadership took the initiative in designing a master plan for welcoming international visitors to propagate a positive image of its colony. Interestingly enough, the colonial government in Korea designed similar schemes that were discussed by Kim and Moon at Pyongyang such as the improvement of railway system across the Korean Peninsula linked to Manchuria and tourism at the Mount Kumgang resort to attract foreign tourists from Europe.

Sports ties between the two countries in the Olympic Games during the Cold War period mirror their rocky political relationship. The two Koreas have competed hard with each other in most sports tournaments including the Olympics. North Korea boycotted the 1988 Summer Olympics amid Cold War rivalry. One year before the 1988 Games, a South Korean passenger plane was bombed by North Korean agents wanting to disrupt the Seoul Olympics, killing all 115 people aboard.

Having said that, the Olympic arena has granted the two Koreas a place for a peaceful relationship.  Even though it did not work well, the first official governmental meeting between two sides after the Korean War (1950-1953) were the Lausanne South-North Korean sport talks of 1963. The 59th IOC General Assembly in Moscow June, 1962, recommended that North and South Korea should participate in the Olympics as a unified team. North and South Korea first marched together under the same flag at the opening ceremony of the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney as a sign of the detente on the divided nation. At the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics, the two Koreas combined their women’s hockey teams: the first joint Korean squad in any sport in Olympic history.

What a coincidence! The year of 2032 appears to be memorable to both Koreas: the century of the Korean athletes’ first participation in the Olympic Games. The tumultuous trajectory of the Korean sports history may finally have a happy ending in North-South Korea Olympic Games. The biggest sporting festival in 2032 will not just be for national liberation or defeating a Cold War enemy, but also for promoting peace in the world, the true spirit of the Olympics.


Seok Lee is the Associate Director of the James Joo-Jin Kim Program in Korean Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. The views expressed here are the author’s alone.

Photo from Maciek Lulko’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

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The 2018 PyeongChang Winter Paralympics and North Korea’s Record on People with Disabilities

By Robert King

The Olympic torch flickered out a week ago bringing the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympics to a close after a spectacular techno light show featuring traditional Korean folk performers combined with the best of K-pop. The pentagonal stadium, however, will be dark for only a few days before the opening ceremony of the PyeongChang 2018 Paralympic Games on March 9.

The Paralympic Games are an international multi-sport event for athletes with disabilities, which grew out of a modest gathering of disabled British World War II veterans in 1948. It has become a major international sports event, and since the 1960s the Paralympic Games have paralleled the Olympic Games in venue, timing, and international participation. Since 1976, the Winter Olympics have been followed by Paralympic games. The PyeongChang 2018 Winter Paralympic Games are the first winter Paralympics hosted by the Republic of Korea.

The participation of North Korean athletes in the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Paralympics is the first time disabled athletes from the North have been involved in the Winter Paralympics. North Korean Paralympic athletes participated in summer games in London in 2012 and in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.

On February 27 the South Korean Ministry of Unification announced the North will send a 20-member team with six athletes and four officials from the North’s Paralympic Committee. Only two of the athletes will participate in the games, however, both in Para-Nordic skiing events.

The two DPRK skiers who will participate in the games are novices, one of the young men only began skiing in December of 2017. To qualify for the PyeongChang Paralympics, however, both participated in Para-Nordic Skiing World Cup event at Oberreid, Germany, earlier this year. Both, however, have high hopes of winning medals in PyeongChang.

Based on inter-Korean talks in January regarding North Korean participation in the just-ended PyeongChang Winter Olympics and the upcoming Paralympics, it was originally expected that there would be a 150-member delegation from the North for the Paralympics. The Ministry of Unification, however, suggested that the lack of musicians and cheerleaders for the Paralympics was because “North Korea seems to think that it has already partly contributed to an improvement of inter-Korean ties by sending an art troupe and a cheering squad to the PyeongChang Olympics.”  Apparently greater effort for the Paralympics is unnecessary—a clear signal that North Korean participation was principally political.

The involvement of the DPRK in the Paralympics highlights the issue of treatment of the disabled in the North. In the past there were reports in 2006-2008 that persons with disabilities were banned from living in the capital city Pyongyang, and the only persons with disabilities who were treated with respect were veterans whose disabilities were attributed to American brutality in the Korean War. Professor Vitit Muntarbhorn, the first UN Special Rapporteur for human rights in the DPRK, also reported this to the UN Human Rights Council.

Two elements were probably important in encouraging North Korean leaders to improve the treatment of people with disabilities.

First, the criticism of the North’s human rights in the United Nations.  In 2009 the DPRK officials participated in their first Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in the UN Human Rights Council at a plenary session in Geneva. A high-level delegation, including a number of officials from Pyongyang, maintained in the country’s report and public statements at the UN that the country’s human rights were excellent and had no deficiencies. The 167 recommendations made by other Member Countries of the UN to North Korea in the context of the UPR process, however, suggested serious issues in a number of areas. Representatives from many member countries called for attention to specific human rights deficiencies. Among the problems on which the United States and a few other countries urged improvement was in the area of persons with disabilities.  North Korea has been sensitive to this criticism from UN member countries.

The United States raised this issue based on the belief that this was an area that was less sensitive to the North Korean leadership. Freedom of speech, freedom of movement, freedom of religion, and such rights were a threat because they could undermine authoritarian rule. Humane treatment of persons with disabilities, however, was simply a humanitarian concern that would pose no threat to the existing regime.

Second, elite families include individuals with disabilities, and these leaders likely pressed for government programs to help family members. It is clear, for example, that those individuals who are participating in the Paralympics are from elite families. The skiers who qualified for the PyeongChang Paralympics are from Pyongyang—and only the elite are permitted to live in the capital city. Furthermore, foreign travel is a privilege to reward the worthy elite.  Travel to Germany for the qualifying Para-Nordic Skiing competition and to South Korea for the Paralympics are a reward extended only to families of the favored elite.

Because of this desire to reduce the criticism of its human rights record in the United Nations, the North Korean leadership has taken steps to improve conditions for persons with disabilities.  As the North Koreans approached their second Universal Periodic Review in the UN Human Rights Council, the DPRK signed the Convention on People with Disabilities (an international agreement created and negotiated through the United Nations).  This was announced by DPRK delegates in their 2014 second UPR report.

One of the most dramatic indications of the North Korean progress on disability rights was the country’s willingness to host the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities in May 2017. Catalina Devandas-Aguilar, a Costa Rican diplomat, has been the Special Rapporteur since the position was created in 2014.  She was the first UN human rights official permitted to visit Pyongyang.  All UN Special Rapporteurs on DPRK human rights issues and the Chair of the UN Commission of Inquiry on DPRK human rights have made repeated efforts to visit and all have been denied by Pyongyang. Ms. Devandas-Aguilar reported favorably on the results of her visit, though she expressed regret that she was denied access to some ministries relevant to her visit, and she recommended needed improvements in disability rights practices.

North Korea has made progress on dealing with its citizens with disabilities, and these positive steps have been reported on in some detail by Kati Zellweger in a 2014 report for the Shornstein Research Center at Stanford University. John Feffer has also summarized and gave a more recent report on North Korean efforts on disabilities in a 2017 blog posting for 38 North. Both reports praise the progress that has been made, but both also acknowledge and discuss the limitations and the needs for additional effort.

The participation of a few North Korean Paralympians in the PyeongChang Paralympics is a positive step forward in the recognition and implementation rights of disabled DPRK citizens.  At the same time, however, North Korean participation is motivated much more by the political effort to improve Pyongyang’s political relationship with South Korea. The goal is to gain South Korean assistance to undermine and evade international sanctions on the North imposed because of its hostile and threatening nuclear and missile programs, and also an effort to create division between South Korea and the United States.

North Korea’s progress on rights for people with disabilities should be acknowledged and welcomed, but—despite these positive steps in this one area—its human rights record still remains one of the worst in the world.

Robert R. King is a Non-Resident Fellow at the Korea Economic Institute of America. He is former U.S. Special Envoy for North Korea Human Rights.  The views expressed here are his own.

Photo from the Republic of Korea’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

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Meet the Korean Musicians who Rocked the PyeongChang Closing Ceremony

By Jenna Gibson

At the Closing Ceremony of the PyeongChang Winter Olympics yesterday, a wide variety of South Korean musicians showed the breadth of Korean music. From today’s hottest k-pop stars to metal to traditional Korean sounds, here is our look at the musicians who showed the world what Korean music has to offer. And, at the bottom, check out our Spotify playlist so you can sample more music from these great artists!


Yang Tae-Hwan

Just 13 years old, guitarist Yang Tae-Hwan rocked an electric guitar version of Vivaldi’s classic “Winter,” capturing the Internet’s attention immediately. Discovered at age 10 on the Korean show “Star King,” which allows ordinary people to come show off their talents, Yang has plenty of awesome music on his YouTube channel to keep you rocking out long after the Games are over.



Probably the most epic performance of the night, rock group Jambinai captivated the stadium with a powerful rendition of their song “Time of Extinction” backed by 80 musicians playing a traditional Korea instrument called the geomungo. The group mixes rock and metal influences with traditional Korean instruments, and describe their music as “POST ROCK, METAL, DARK, TRADITONAL, Avantgarde but NOT 퓨전국악 [fusion traditional Korean music] EVER.”


Jang Sa-ik

Debuting as a singer in 1994 at age 46, Jang Sa-ik has won acclaim for his powerful voice and emotional lyrics, often incorporating his background studying traditional Korean musical instruments and sounds into his music. He sang the Korean National Anthem at the Closing Ceremony accompanied by 23 children, representing the fact that PyeongChang was the 23rd Winter Olympics.


Second Moon

Evoking Korean traditional pansori sounds and mixed with Western instrumentals, Second Moon is an ethnic fusion band founded in 2004. They’re most famous for their OST music, creating songs for hit Korean dramas like Love in the Moonlight and The Legend of the Blue Sea.


Oh Yeon Joon

Known as “Jeju Boy” because of his island hometown, 11-year-old Oh Yeon Joon was discovered in 2016 on a singing competition show for children called “We Kid.” Yesterday, he brought his bright, clear voice to the closing ceremony, where he performed the Olympic Anthem.



Rapper, singer, songwriter, dancer – as NBC Commentators Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir noted, CL can do it all. Formerly the leader of the now-disbanded k-pop supergroup 2NE1, CL has since started a solo career, periodically making inroads into the American market through appearances on The Late Late Show and collaborations with artists like Diplo. She performed not only one of her solo songs, “The Baddest Female,” but also the iconic 2011 2NE1 hit, “I Am the Best.”



Originally formed as two groups, targeting both the Korean and Chinese markets and releasing all their music in both Korean and Mandarin (and now making a recent debut in Japan), this international powerhouse performed some of their hit songs along with a dance solo intro featuring a more traditional Korean style. With lyrics like “Through this music, when we sing with one voice together, we get stronger,” EXO’s 2017 song “Power” brought a great Olympic spirit of unity to the Closing Ceremony.


Martin Garrix/DJ Raiden

In a bit of a disappointment for the many Twitter users hoping the night’s “surprise musical guest” would be Psy, Martin Garrix closed out the show, hyping up a massive dance party to round out the night. With Garrix and Korean DJ Raiden pumping up the crowd, the final performance put a fun note on the ending of the 2018 Olympic Games in PyeongChang.



Jenna Gibson is the Director of Communications at the Korea Economic Institute of America. The views expressed here are the author’s alone. Image from Republic of Korea’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

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South Korean Athletes to Watch at the PyeongChang Olympics

By Yeonsu Kim and Minhee Lee

Despite the fact that South Korea is not necessarily well known for winter sports, the country won the right to host the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics after several attempts in 2010 and 2014. South Korea has high expectations for PyeongChang, with the team hoping to obtain eight gold medals, four silver medals, and eight bronze medals from a star packed team that includes Park Je-un, Choi Da-bin, and Yun Sung-bin. Check out our list below of the South Korean athletes to watch for each sport in PyeongChang and when you can watch them go for the gold.

  • Alpine Skiing

Men’s Downhill (Sun, 11 Feb)
Men’s Alpine Combined Downhill (Tue, 13 Feb)

Jeong Dong-hyun, who won the gold medal at the 2011 Winter Asian Games and ranked 27th last January in Switzerland, is expected to break the top 20 in PyeongChang. This would be a significant accomplishment, as South Korea has never ranked in the top 20 in Alpine Skiing at the Olympics. Jeong has previously been a national team member three times – at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, the 2011 Winter Asian Games, and the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

  • Bobsleigh

2-man Heat (Sun, 18 Feb)

The team of Won Yoon-jong and Seo Yeong-woo were ranked first in the world during 2015-2016 season. Even though they moved down to 46th last year, they are still strong candidates for a medal in PyeongChang. The bobsleigh skeleton team as a whole is hoping to grab the first Olympic medal in South Korea’s sleigh history, aiming for two gold medals and one bronze medal.

  • Cross-Country Skiing

Men’s 15km + 15km Skiathlon (Sun, 11 Feb)
Ladies’ 7.5km + 7.5km Skiathlon (Sat, 10 Feb)

Kim Magnus is a rising star and is considered a medal candidate in these games. He made his debut on the adult stage last year, improving from a top 90 ranking to 40th place this year. In addition, Lee Chae-won, who was born in PyeongChang, and the oldest player on the Korean team is considered a ‘legend’ in cross-country skiing, has won 45 gold medals in local winter games that was the highest number of gold medals in South Korea’s national record. She is hoping to place in the top 20 in PyeongChang.

  • Curling

Mixed Doubles Round Robin (Thu, 8 Feb)/ Women’s Round Robin (Thu, 15 Feb)

The Korean women’s curling team consists of six members under the guidance of coach Kim Min-jung and led by athlete Kim Eun-jung, who is in charge of skipping. The Korean national team won the silver medal in the Asian Games in Sapporo last year, the gold medal in the Asia-Pacific curling championships, and the gold medal in the Finland Master Tour tournament.

Kim Chang- min, the leader of men’s curling team, nabbed the Asia- Pacific championship gold medal and the team were runners-up in the Boost National Grand Slam last year. With these impressive track records, both the women’s curling team and men’s curling team are expected to have good performances in PyeongChang.

  • Figure Skating

Pair Skating Short Program— Short Skating (Wed, 14 Feb)
Free Skating (Thur, 15 Feb)

Choi Da-bin is the 2017 Asian Winter Games champion and a five-time South Korean national medalist (three silver, two bronze). She placed in the top ten at the 2017 World Figure Skating Championships, 2017 Four Continents Figure Skating Championships, and twice (2014, 2015) at the World Junior Figure Skating Championships. She is expected to perform well in PyeongChang and follow in the footsteps of Korean figure skating legend Kim Yuna.

  • Freestyle Skiing

Men’s Moguls Qualification 1 (Fri, 09 Feb)

The first time Choi Jae-woo won a Korean national alpine skiing contest, he was seven years old. At age 10, he began earnestly seeking a life in competitive skiing. In 2009, he made the national team and won bronze at the 2012 World Junior Alpine Skiing. He became the first South Korean to make the Olympic finals at the Sochi Winter Games in 2014 and is expected to compete for a top spot in PyeongChang.

  • Ice Hockey

Korea vs. Switzerland (Sat, 10 Feb)

Park Yoon-jung, one of the Korean players on the Korean women’s ice hockey team, was adopted by American parents. In 2016, Park reclaimed her Korean citizenship, and in this upcoming Olympics she will be playing for Korea while her sister will be a national team member for the United States. With her Korean citizenship and Korean uniform, Park won all in five competitions in the 2017 Ice Hockey World Championships. Even though there is only a slim possibility that the U.S. and Korea will face each other in PyeongChang, these siblings competing for the two countries will surely be a big story during this Olympics season.

  • Luge

Women’s Singles Run 1 (Mon, 12 Feb)

Aileen Frisch will represent South Korea at the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics. Frisch won gold medals at the Junior World and Junior European Championships, but retired from luge racing after she failed to be included on the senior German squad for the 2015/16 season. Then she was approached by the Korea Luge Federation (KLF) to race for Korea. Germany is a luge powerhouse, winning every gold medal at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, but with Frisch on the team South Korea may have a chance to compete for a medal in PyeongChang.

  • Nordic Combined

Individual Gundersen NH/10km, Ski Jumping Trial Round (Wed 14, Feb)

Park Jae-un, who is the only Korean player to compete in the Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Nordic Complex, will open a new chapter in the history Korean Nordic skiing. In 2006, he won three national championships, and he was the national representative for ski jumping. He obtained 30th place in the Nordic Combined World Cup held in PyeongChang last February. He is aiming at the achievement of mid-level or higher using the home court advantage of competing in South Korea.

  • Short Track Speed Skating

Ladies’ 500m Heat 1  (Sat, 10 Feb)
Men’s 1,500m Heat 1 (Sat, 10 Feb)

Choi Min-jung was awarded her first senior individual gold medal ahead of Arianna Fontana from Italy when she crossed the finish line of the women’s 1500m final for the second ISU Short Track World Cup of the 2014-2015 season held in Montreal, Canada. At age 16, she became the 2015 Overall Ladies World Champion. In 2017, she won a gold medal in the Winter Asian Games for the 1,500m and 3,000m, and a silver medal for the 1,000m. She is expected to earn gold medals in 500m and 1,000m in PyeongChang based on her performance at the last four World Cups.

On the men’s side, Lim Hyo-jun became a member of the South Korean national team for the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics through the 2017/18 selection match. He has great skills in overtaking other skaters, especially on the inner course and outer course. Lim Hyo-jun is expected to earn a medal in the 1,500m.

Hwang Dae Heon is another South Korean short track speed skater to watch. In the 2016/17 season, he was named Rookie of the Year by the Korea Skating Union. He was a silver medalist at the 2015/16 World Junior Championships. At World Cup events, Hwang has been on the podium 17 times. He is five-time gold, nine-time silver and three-time bronze medalist at the Speed Skating World Cup in the 500m, 1000m, 1500m and 5000m relay.

  • Skeleton

Men Heat 1 (Thur, 15 Feb)

Yoon Seong-bin participated 2014 Winter Olympics as a Korean national team member. He got the first gold medal of the 2015-2016 season at the International Bobsleigh & Skeleton Federation (IBSF) World Championships. After that, Yoon was ranked first in the world at the 2017-2018 season IBSF World Championships. Even though he started skeleton late in life compare to other players, he is a strong candidate for medals in this Olympics.

  • Ski Jumping

Ladies’ Normal Hill Individual Trial Round for Competition (Mon, 12 Feb)

Park Kyu-rim was ranked third in the International Ski Federation’s FIS Cup held in Whistler, Canada last December, marking her the first time on the podium. At the PyeongChang Olympics, she is not classified as a medal contender. However, her participation is still historic for South Korea, because Park is the first female Korean national ski jumper to compete in the Olympics, and the only one competing this year.

  • Snowboard

Men’s Slopestyle Qualification Heat 1 Run 1 (Sat, 10 Feb)

Lee Sang-ho was ranked 20th out of 53 participants in the Snowboarding World Championship in 2013. In 2014, he won a silver medal in the International Ski Federation FIS Cup, and in 2015 he obtained a bronze and a gold medal as well. He was the first South Korean gold medalist at the Snowboarding World Cup. He is currently ranked ninth in the FIS World Cup ranking. After he got a gold medal in 2017 in Japan, Lee’s success propelled alpine snowboard’s popularity in South Korea. With his skills, Lee is viewed as one of the possible gold medalists at this Olympics.

  • Speed Skating

Men’s 5,000m (Sun, 11 Feb)

In 2010, Lee Seung-hoon established new Korean record at the Asian Championships in the 10,000m with a time of 13:21:04. That year, Lee also won a silver medal and a gold medal at the Vancouver Winter Olympics, where he broke his Olympic record in the 10,000m with a 12:58:55 time. As the king of long distance speed skating, Lee will participate in PyeongChang in the 5,000m, 10,000m, Outpace Team and Mass Strat, and looks to earn medals in each game.

In addition, Mo Tae-beom became the first Korean gold medalist in his sport and recorded 01:09:82 at the 2010 Olympics. At the 2014 Olympics, he was ranked fourth in the Men’s Speed Skating 500m. Even though he didn’t continue his streak after the Vancouver Olympics, he is still expected to become a medalist in PyeongChang.

Yeonsu Kim  is currently an Intern at the Korea Economic Institute of America as part of the Asan Academy Fellowship Program. She is also a student of Sogang University in South Korea. Minhee Lee has a Master’s degree in Strategic Public Relations in The George Washington University and is currently an intern at the Korea Economic Institute of America. The views expressed here are the authors’ alone.

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PyeongChang or Pyongyang Olympics?: The Politics of North Korean Participation in the Winter Olympics

By Robert King

For 17 days in February, Pyeongchang, South Korea, will host the 23rd Olympic Winter Games.  In the opening ceremony, which will take place in a new 35,000 seat arena built for the occasion, thousands of athletes who have qualified in some 15 Winter Olympic sports from 93 countries from around the world will march behind their national flags.  By Olympic tradition, the Greek athletes will be first to enter the stadium and last will be athletes representing the host country—South Korea (the Republic of Korea).  The host delegation, however, will not march behind the South Korean flag.  The South Korean host athletes, together with North Korean Winter Olympians, will march into the stadium behind a “unified Korea flag”—a white banner with a blue representation of the Korean Peninsula.  The athletes will be designated as representing “Korea”—not the “Republic of Korea” (the South) or the “People’s Democratic Republic of Korea” (the North).

This is not the first time that North and South Koreans have marched together behind the peninsula “unified Korea” flag under the name Korea in Olympic and other sports events.  In the 2000 Sydney Olympics, shortly after the first inter-Korean summit meeting between South Korean President Kim Dae-jong and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, the two countries marched together in the Opening Ceremony.  They did so again in Athens in 2004 and the Turin Winter Olympics of 2006.  They last marched together in the Asian Winter Games of 2007 held in Changchun, China.

The unique feature of these Olympic Games, however, is that the North and South Korea will field a joint women’s hockey team.  Though athletes from North and South have marched together, this will be the first time that the two countries will entered a team with players from both countries.  The South Korean men’s hockey team will be manned only by South Korean athletes, and North Korea’s men’s team did not qualify for the games.  There will not be a combined men’s hockey team.  The joint women’s team has not been particularly popular in the South.  Protesters outside the Seoul rail station this week protested the joint team and burned a photograph of North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-il (an act which is a serious crime in North Korea).  Public opinion polling indicated that 73 percent of South Koreans do not support the joint women’s hockey team, although 80 percent do support North Korean participation in the games.

Clearly the participation of the North in the PyeongChang Games has benefits for both North and South since both have made a major effort to bring it about.

The advantages for South Korean President Moon Jae-in are, first, a desire to see the games go smoothly.  There has been concern with hostility and erratic behavior from the North, which could represent a threat to the success of the PyeongChang Games.  On September 3rd the North tested its most recent and largest nuclear device, which it said was a thermo-nuclear bomb.  At the end of November, its latest missile test indicated according to Defense Secretary James Mattis that the North has the capability to reach “anywhere in the world.”  Early indications are that Olympic ticket sales and bookings for lodging were below expectations, and questions were raised in the media about the prospects for the safety of the games.  The agreement of the Moon Administration in Seoul with Pyongyang for the North’s participation would assure a safe and secure atmosphere for the games.

A second consideration for Moon Jae-in was his ideological commitment to make progress on better relations with the North and make progress on Korean unification.  He had been Chief Presidential Secretary to President Roh Moo-hyun (2003-2008), and played a key role in President Roh’s summit with North Korean Leader Kim Jong-il in October 2007.  After he was sworn in as President, Moon sought to cultivate good relations with the United States, making a visit to Washington shortly after he assumed office.  When this relationship with Washington was solid, he was interested in finding opportunities to improve relations with the North.  The Olympics provided an ideal opportunity for his outreach to the North.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was also interested in the improvement in relations with South Korea, and Moon found a willing partner.  For the North Korean leader, the relationship with the United States was deteriorating.  After he assumed leadership in the North in January 2012, his relationship with the United States was difficult.  After the new American president assumed office in early 2017, that relationship deteriorated.  President Donald Trump began calling the North Korean leader “Little Rocket Man” in September and Kim Jong-un called the American President a “Dotard.”  The exchanges between them further deteriorated as Trump threatened “fire and fury” and said “we’ll take care of that.”

Though Kim Jong-un responded in kind to Trump’s words, he also appears to understand that a conflict with the United States would result in the devastation of North Korea and the end his regime.  The approaching Winter Olympic Games gave him an opportunity to reach out to South Korea, which, for its own reasons, was seeking an opportunity to engage with the North.  For Kim, rapprochement with the South could begin to drive a wedge between the United States and South Korea, and this would be helpful to the North.  That was probably one of his principal considerations.

Another benefit from Kim’s point of view was the opportunity to seize public attention.  Like Donald Trump, Kim Jong-un loves international attention, and he benefits from seizing the publicity initiative.  The offer to participate in the PyeongChang Winter Olympics shifted Pyongyang back into the limelight.  The banning of Russia from participating as a country in the PyeongChang Games because of doping violations has all but disappeared as an issue in Olympic news.  North-South cooperation has now seized international media attention.

Kim has taken advantage of the international interest by taking further steps to call attention to the North.  Hyon Song Wol, a beautiful well-known North Korean pop icon who leads Pyongyang’s Samjion pop orchestra, has just completed a visit to the South to examine venues for performances there during the Olympic Games.  Her visit has created a media frenzy in the South.  The Northern delegation to the Olympics will include several hundred cheering fans as well as athletes, musicians, and the ubiquitous “minders” to be certain no visitors overstay.  The North has also used the North-South Olympic fever to call attention to its own Masikryong Ski Resort, where South Korean Olympic competitors will do some training.

The Olympic Moment may be just that.  There are real questions as to whether the thaw in Seoul-Pyongyang relations will bring Spring to the North-South relationship.  There is no sign that Kim is interested in any long-term improvement in relations with the South.  North Korean officials are still harshly dealing with any citizens in the North who dare to reach out to relatives in the South, and the changes involving Olympic participation are all carefully under control Pyongyang’s control.

For the North improving relations with the South may be an effort to seek some relief from the United Nations’ international sanctions and sanctions that individual countries have imposed against the North for its nuclear and missile programs.  In the era of the Sunshine policy when Moon Jae-in was a senior official in the previous President Roh Moo-hyun administration, substantial humanitarian aid and the Kaesong Industrial Complex were key elements in policy towards Pyongyang.  The North would certainly like to see a return to that generous policy.  There is certainly no indication whatever that the Kim Jong-un is willing to make any compromise in his hard line nuclear and missile program.

At the same time, however, any return to such policies will likely lead to severe strain in the relationship between Seoul and Washington.  The excitement of Northern and Southern Olympians marching together into the stadium in PyeongChang on February 9 may well turn into just another of the many short term hopeful steps that is dashed on the incompatibility of the Northern and Southern goals for unification.

Robert R. King is a Non-Resident Fellow at the Korea Economic Institute of America. He is former U.S. Special Envoy for North Korea Human Rights.  The views expressed here are his own.

Photo from the Republic of Korea’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

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A North Korean Thaw for the Winter Olympics?

By Jenna Gibson

Yesterday, high level delegations from South and North Korea sat down at Panmunjom to engage each other in the first inter-Korean talks in two years. The ultimate result of these talks was that the North Koreans agreed to send athletes, a high-level delegation, and other attendees to the upcoming Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, and further discussions on other topics may take place in the coming weeks. While few observers doubt the significance of these talks amid a period of increasingly inflammatory rhetoric and talk of preventative strikes by the United States, many disagree about what this agreement will mean for the Korean peninsula going forward.

Some experts are, rightly, skeptical about what this agreement truly means in terms of long-term improvement in inter-Korean relations, or that this is actually a sign of sincere desire for cooperation on the part of the North Koreans. It’s a fair concern – one only has to look back at the inter-Korean talks after 2015’s landmine incident to see that this kind of overture is only good until the next missile test.

However, even with that healthy skepticism in mind, that doesn’t mean that the two sides shouldn’t try to make these small improvements when they can. To return to the 2015 example – in the scheme of things, all that really came out of those talks were a temporary cooling off and a family reunion event. But I challenge anyone to try telling the handful of South Koreans who were able to see family members for the first time in decades that those discussions weren’t worth it.

However, while the opening of talks and the North Korean agreement to send athletes to PyeongChang can be seen as a victory in many ways, this should in no way be an occasion to weaken sanctions and diplomatic pressure on the North Korean regime. Not only would this be premature, given the aforementioned tendency on the part of Pyongyang to renege on any commitments a short time later, but it would also send the wrong message that pressure can be lifted with just a small concession.

So while people are right to see these talks and the Olympics agreement as a positive step, it is far too early to say this is a sign of North Koreas openness or willingness to engage in more formal talks that could make any real dent in the underlying problem on the peninsula – their nuclear and missile program.

“Everything depends on how North Korea behaves,” said Soojin Park, formerly of the South Korean Unification Ministry and now at the Wilson Center, at a KEI event held today. “What will be important will be how things go after the Olympics. Cautiously I’d like to think that during the Olympic period things won’t go too dramatically. After the Olympics, how North Korea reacts and behaves will be how South Korean perceptions of North Korea could change.”

KEI President Manzullo summed up the situation well in a response he wrote regarding last night’s announcement, “Of course, South Korea and the United States need to keep the ultimate goal of denuclearization in mind. But anything that can reduce the chances of a miscalculation or misunderstanding is a positive step.”

Jenna Gibson is the Director of Communications at the Korea Economic Institute of America. The views expressed here are the author’s alone. Image from Wikipedia creative commons.

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Why There Won’t Be a Military Conflict During the 2018 Winter Olympics

By Troy Stangarone

With the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics rapidly approaching, concerns about safety have been in the news. Earlier this year, France indicated that it might withdraw its athletes if their safety could not be assured, while U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley has suggested that there may be the prospect of conflict during the Olympics. While perhaps prudent to acknowledge the potential concerns for the Olympics from North Korea’s increasingly provocative behavior, concerns about safety during the Olympics are likely misplaced.

As tensions on the Korean Peninsula have risen as a result of North Korea’s three intercontinental ballistic missile tests (ICBM), test of a hydrogen bomb, and stern words out of Washington suggesting the potential for a military solution to address North Korea’s growing capabilities, concerns about the safety of the 2018 Winter Olympics has understandably risen. While perhaps still low, the prospect of military intervention being used to reverse North Korea’s nuclear program is higher than it has been in decades. There is also precedent for North Korea seeking to create tensions around the Olympics on the Korean Peninsula. In the lead up to the 1988 Seoul Summer Games Pyongyang downed Korean Air Flight 858 in what was largely seen as an effort to discourage participation at the Games in Seoul. North Korea’s own unwillingness to date to allow its athletes to take part in the Winter Olympics or dial down the tensions on the peninsula only adds to the concerns.

While it is prudent to be concerned about a potential disruption of the Winter Games in PyeongChang by North Korea, Pyongyang also has little incentive to antagonize China or Russia by placing their athletes and citizens at risk during the games. If Chinese or Russian civilians, along with others, were to die as a result of a North Korean attack on the Olympic Games it would galvanize international opinion against the regime in a way not seen to date and place pressure on Moscow and Beijing to take a harder line against Pyongyang then they have wanted to up to this point. Attacking the Olympic Games could also have the side effect of convincing the international community that a regime that felt it was acceptable to attack the Olympics in peacetime is not one that could be trusted to possess weapons of mass destruction, and thus further build support for the use of military force against North Korea. In essence, there is little incentive for North Korea to endanger the Olympic Games.

However, while there may be little incentive for North Korea to attack the Winter Games, Pyongyang may be motivated to undermine the overall success of the Olympic Games and raise tensions further in the region. Concerns about safety and Chinese retaliation over South Korea’s decision to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile system, among other factors, have already contributed to slower ticket sales than normal. As a result, we should not be surprised if North Korea conducts additional missile tests or engages in other provocative actions in the lead up to the Olympics or during the Games themselves to add to existing concerns over the Olympics. A marred Olympic Games would likely be viewed as much as a success in Pyongyang as a successful Games would be in Seoul.

In contrast to concerns over North Korea’s potential efforts to undermine the 2018 Winter Olympics, South Korean President Moon Jae-in has pushed for the Olympics to be a springboard for peace on the Korean Peninsula. He has encourage the participation of North Korean athletes and called for the postponement of U.S.-South Korean military exercises until after the Olympic and Paralympic Games are concluded in March.

North Korea could yet surprise us and embrace President Moon’s overtures and send its athletes to PyeongChang or take other steps to begin the process of dialogue during the Olympics. However, it is more likely that North Korea will seek to raise tensions in the lead up to the 2018 Winter Olympics than to embrace a path towards dialogue or take the more extreme course of endangering the lives of any of the participants.

Troy Stangarone is the Senior Director for Congressional Affairs and Trade at the Korea Economic Institute of America. The views expressed here are the author’s alone.

Photo from Korea.net’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

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Could the PyeongChang Winter Games Help China to Signal a Softening Position on THAAD Sanctions?

By Troy Stangarone

Since South Korea decided to move forward with the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system in the aftermath of North Korea’s fourth nuclear test last year, China has made its opposition to the deployment clear and attempted to use targeted economic pressure to convince South Korea to not move forward with the deployment. However, with Seoul’s decision to move forward with the deployment of THAAD, Beijing’s policy has had little impact other than to weaken relations between South Korea and China. As Beijing looks for ways to adjust its policy, the 2018 Winter Olympics could provide an avenue for China to signal a softening of its position on sanctions.

China has not openly admitted to sanctioning South Korea over the deployment of THAAD, but the steps it has taken since the decision are clearly designed to send a signal to Seoul. These have been calculated to ensure that while specific industries feel concentrated economic difficulties to ensure that Beijing’s message is received, they are also designed to not interfere with the broader processing trade between South Korea and China that might have a more significant impact on jobs in China.

As a result, China has chosen symbolic targets that are either related to the deployment of THAAD, or that will touch areas of significance to South Korea such as Hallyu. The most direct target has been Lotte, which owned the golf course on which THAAD was deployed. It has seen nearly all of its stores closed for health and safety inspections and will now be pulling out of the Chinese market completely due to mounting loses. On the cultural side, early targets included K-Pop stars, as well as Korean TV and movie stars. Beijing then moved to ban the sale of group travel sales to South Korea, which as impacted South Korea’s tourism industry which was highly dependent upon Chinese tourists. While these are not all of the actions that China has taken or potentially taken related to THAAD, they each clearly demonstrated Beijing’s willingness to use economic leverage to try and sway Seoul’s decision on THAAD.

China is unlikely to change its position on THAAD, but with its economic pressure having little impact on South Korea’s defense policy it may be considering a change of course in its tactics. There are some indications that it may already be doing so with the recent renewal of a currency swap agreement between China and South Korea, as well as the first meeting between the two countries’ defense ministers in two years. However, there are economic reasons why China might have decided to renew the currency swap agreement and with tensions rising with North Korea renewing high level military contacts is prudent.

Whether these steps are the beginning of a change of course for China or driven by other factors, the upcoming 2018 Winter Games could provide an opportunity for Beijing to clearly signal a change of course if it has chosen to do so. At the moment, the official ticket broker in China is reported to have only requested 3,000 tickets for the PyeongChang Games. Loosening the reigns on travel and boosting Chinese participation at the games would be one way to signal that China is backing off of using economic pressure. Allowing more fans to attend is in China’s interest. The 2022 Winter Games will be held in Beijing and by tradition the mayor of the current host passes the Oslo flag to the mayor of the next host city, which also oversees the end of the Closing Ceremony. Does Beijing really want the Olympic stadium to be filled with only a token number of Chinese fans as the torch is metaphorically passed to the Beijing organizers?

There is also a tradition of world leaders attending either the Opening Ceremony or Closing Ceremony of the Olympic Games, perhaps most notably when Prime Minister Abe Shinzo made a surprise appearance at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games as part of Japan’s part of the Closing Ceremony in anticipation of the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. While it unlikely that Xi Jinping would make such a gesture, his attendance at either the Opening Ceremony or Closing Ceremony, along with positive remarks about South Korea at the Games, could also signal that China is prepared to shift course.

Since China has never formally said that it was using economic pressure to convince South Korea to reverse its decision on the deployment of THAAD, there will never be a clear statement that the sanctions on Korean firms has ended. However, if Beijing is looking to end a policy that has provided little benefit to China’s objectives, allowing more Chinese tourist to visit South Korea during the Olympics coupled with a positive visit to the Games could be a good way to do so.

Troy Stangarone is the Senior Director for Congressional Affairs at the Korea Economic Institute of America. The views expressed here are the author’s alone.

Photo from the Republic of Korea’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

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PyeongChang 2018 Olympics: Will North Korea Participate?

By Juni Kim

In a year marked by turbulent Korean relations, the Rio Games provided the backdrop for two modest moments of North-South reconciliation. South Korean gymnast Lee Eun-ju posed with her fellow North Korean competitor Hong Un-jong for a selfie, which quickly became viral. A few days later, Kim Song-guk, the North Korean bronze medalist in the men’s 50m pistol, took the medal stand with the South Korean gold medalist Jin Jong-oh. In a press conference following the event, Kim remarked that their accomplishment would mean more for Korea if the two nations were unified. As the Rio Games come to a close, the realities and politics between the two neighboring countries will unfortunately overshadow these encouraging moments. With the 2018 Winter Olympics to be held in the South Korean resort town of Pyeongchang, North Korea has demonstrated eagerness to attain a share of the South Korean limelight that comes with hosting the Olympic Games. However, North Korea’s diplomatic track record and recent provocations may jeopardize their participation in the 2018 Games.

When Seoul was selected to host the 1988 Summer Olympics, North Korea made a serious bid to co-host the Games despite never having officially submitted a hosting bid to the International Olympic Committee (IOC). In 1985, North Korea proposed hosting half of the Olympic events in its capital Pyeongyang under the new moniker “Korea Pyongyang Seoul Olympic Games.” The IOC ultimately rejected North Korea’s proposals, though the IOC did consider hosting several events in Pyeongyang including soccer, archery, table tennis, cycling, and women’s volleyball. The North Korean delegation’s insistence on hosting no less than half of the events led to the derailment of the negotiations. Despite a last minute appeal by South Korea to encourage the North to participate, North Korea boycotted the Games.

North Korea’s inflexible and botched attempt to co-host the 1988 Olympics did not dissuade them from more modest attempts to hold part of the Pyeongchang Games. During South Korea’s second bid to host the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, the North Korean national Olympic committee chair Chang Ung officially supported the bid only hours before the IOC selection committee’s decision. Chang also offered cooperation in fielding a united Korean team, similar to the unified Korean entrance in the opening ceremonies of the 2000 and 2004 Olympics.

After Pyeongchang finally succeeded in its third bid, North Korea began the development of a ski resort in Kangwon province, which borders South Korea. Chang Ung acknowledged that the resort’s purpose was partially meant to serve as a potentially Olympic site. North Korea attempted to showcase its newly built Masikryong ski resort this past January by inviting famed professional snowboarders to test the slopes. American snowboarders Dan “Danimals” Liedahl and Mike Ravelson were among the invited group, but North Korea’s fourth nuclear test just days before the trip prompted the organizers to scrap the plan.

Although historically unified, Gangwon (Kangwon) province is split and administered by both Korean nations.

Although historically unified, Gangwon (Kangwon) province is currently split and administered by both Korean nations.

Despite the construction of the resort, the organizing committee for the 2018 Winter Games rejected co-hosting possibilities repeatedly by citing the technical and logistical limitations in sharing the Games. In a news release in 2013, the committee asserted, “We should make sure technology and administrative works are in optimal condition in order to host an event- and athlete-oriented Olympic Games. Holding some of the events in the Masik resort, more than 300 kilometers away from Pyeongchang, cannot guarantee meeting this goal.” Choi Moon-soon, governor of Pyeongchang’s Gangwon province, is one notable exception to South Korean opposition for co-hosting the Games. He expressed support last year in possibly sharing snowboarding and slalom events with North Korea. Shortly after the governor made the comments, the organizing committee reemphasized their opposition to co-hosting possibilities. Kwak Young-jin, the committee’s vice president of planning and administration, firmly rebuked, “With the construction for all competition venues already under way, we have already made it crystal clear that there is no point of discussing co-hosting of the Olympics.”

With the door shut on co-hosting possibilities, North Korea’s participation in the 2018 Olympics remains unclear. In the week prior to the Rio Olympics, the North Korean Olympic committee stated its hope to participate in the Pyeongchang Games, though the South Korean Unification Ministry indicated that North Korea’s participation depends on the IOC. Inter-Korean relations suffered major setbacks this year including North Korea’s January nuclear test, multiple missile launches, and South Korea’s closing of the joint Kaesong Industrial Complex, one of the few remaining avenues of North-South cooperation.  North Korean participation in the Games may be put in further jeopardy if the regime continues to carry out provocations.

Even with IOC approval, it is possible that North Korea may choose to boycott the Games for political reasons. Much like the 1988 Olympics, North Korea may feel slighted by not being able to host any events and withdraw participation in protest. Such a withdrawal would only further isolate the regime, which has drawn heavy international condemnation including the recent round of UN sanctions.

Both North and South Korea should not underestimate the importance of the 2018 Games for inter-Korean relations. In his book Beyond the Final Score: The Politics of Sport in Asia, Victor Cha wrote, “Sport matters in world politics because it can create diplomatic breakthroughs (or breakdowns) in ways unanticipated by regular diplomacy. Just as a small white ping-pong ball promoted a thaw in relations between the United States and China, sport helped to end the Cold War in Asia and remains a unique instrument of diplomacy, building goodwill in a region of the world that lacks this commodity.”[1] Athletes like Lee Eun-ju and Kim Song-guk reflect this goodwill, and North Korea’s potential absence from the Pyeongchang Games would be a significant missed chance to improve North-South relations.

Juni Kim is the Program Manager and Executive Assistant at the Korea Economic Institute of America (KEI). The views expressed here are the author’s alone. 

Photo from Republic of Korea’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

[1] Cha, Victor D. Beyond the Final Score: The Politics of Sport in Asia. Columbia University Press, 2009.

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About The Peninsula

The Peninsula blog is a project of the Korea Economic Institute. It is designed to provide a wide ranging forum for discussion of the foreign policy, economic, and social issues that impact the Korean peninsula. The views expressed on The Peninsula are those of the authors alone, and should not be taken to represent the views of either the editors or the Korea Economic Institute. For questions, comments, or to submit a post to The Peninsula, please contact us at ts@keia.org.