With the recent end of football season, all eyes are focused on Pyeongchang, South Korea, the winter Olympics and the talented athletes competing for the gold. This year, North Korea has entered the games under the Unification Flag of Korea, combining its athletic efforts with those of its southern neighbor. Questions linger in the minds of most viewers: What is the goal of North Korea and leader Kim Jong-un in orchestrating this display, and to what extent is the nation getting what it wants?
“Kim Jong-un is winning at this point,” says Kazuya Fukuoka, Ph.D., associate professor of political science at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. “The new South Korean president, Moon Jae-in, wants to create a rapport with North Korea, and he’s doing the best he can based on his conviction that the North and South should negotiate for peaceful resolution.”
But while South Korea attempts to make amends with its uniquely politicized neighbor, the North is doing what it can to drive a wedge between the United States and its South Korean ally.
The United States officials seem very angry, Fukuoka says, adding that Japan would be a much tougher nation for North Korea to pursue than South Korea. “The South Korean government is trying to pretend they aren’t aware of this U.S. outrage, but Japan clearly sees it too.”
According to Fukuoka, U.S. leaders are responding in an unambiguous manner. Pence arrived at the games after visiting Tokyo to meet with Prime Minister Abe of Japan, suggesting that both nations are joining efforts to respond to these actions from North Korea. “Vice President Mike Pence didn’t shake hands with the leader of North Korea’s Olympic delegation, Kim Yong-nam. He also ignored Kim Yo-jong, the sister of North Korea’s supreme leader, at the Opening ceremony,” he says. “That’s sending a message.”
Considering all of the political moves being made, the world will have to wait until after the games’ conclusion to see the results of these subtleties. “These are just gestures, but they don’t change much for me,” says Fukuoka. “This is the pulse of the whole conflict: an escalation of the tensions between the U.S. and North Korea. It’s not exactly a game changer yet.”