EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: The PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea is a major political as well as sporting event. The Olympic spirit of peace will be on full display when the North and South Korean teams enter the stadium together and even play together. But the new euphoria on the Peninsula has reignited a political debate between Korean conservatives and liberals on policy towards North Korea. While liberals see the Olympics as an opportunity for negotiation, conservatives see Pyongyang’s agreement to attend as a tactic to gain benefits and not a genuine expression of warming relations.
The PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea, which begin on February 9, will offer moments of euphoria. The North and South Korean teams will enter the stadium together and a unified Korean women’s hockey team will compete, representing both Koreas. One can compare the current elation to the June 2000 meeting between the late South Korean leader Kim Dae-jung and the late North Korean leader Kim Jong-il. People thought that meeting might be the beginning of a beautiful friendship – but their hopes did not last long. Tensions in the Korean Peninsula soon resumed.
The attempts by South Korean President Moon Jae-in to persuade Kim Jong-un to send the North Korean team to participate in the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympics took a great deal of effort. Pyongyang did not initially see that any significant benefits would accrue from its participation in the Games. Part of Seoul’s effort involved persuading Washington to ease its anti-Kim rhetoric. Ultimately, Pyongyang decided it was willing to participate in the Games to maximize the gains it can accumulate following its achievement of credible deterrence via its ICBM with a nuclear warhead.