Winter Olympics: North and South Korea to march together under one flag

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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un claps his hands during a photo session with participants of the Fourth National Conference of War Veterans in front of the Fatherland Liberation War Martyrs Cemetery in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on July 30, 2015. REUTERS/KCNA

North Korea and South Korea are set to unite under one flag with a combined women’s ice hockey team at the 2018 Winter Olympics opening ceremony in February. The two Koreas have been in talks about the Olympics since early 2018, the first time in over two years.

Seoul confirmed on Wednesday that North Korea will be aligning with South Korea for the Winter Olympics, which will be held in Seoul. The agreement to walk under one flag appears to suggest that sports could help push for the ultimate diplomatic breakthrough following tensions over the North’s nuclear escalation.

The two Koreas have combined forces at other international sports events in the past. But this will be the first time the North and South fight as a unified team in the Olympics.

A joint press statement released by Seoul’s Unification Ministry states that the North will be represented by a delegation of over 400. These include 230 cheerleaders, 140 artists and 30 Taekwondo players. The statement adds that the exact number of athletes will be hammered out after discussions with the IOC slated for later this week. North Korea’s delegation will start to arrive in South Korea on January 25.

But North Korea aligning with the South for the Winter Olympics is already causing controversy. The majority or more than 70 percent of South Koreans oppose combining a team with North Korea. This is according to a January 11 poll the office of the South’s National Assembly Speaker and television network SBS released. South Korean players are said to be  “furious.”

North Korea’s participation in the upcoming Olympics seems to come as a surprise. “Under the circumstances where inter-Korean (relations) are extremely strained, in fact just some 20 days ago we weren’t expecting North Korea would participate in the Olympics,”  the South’s chief negotiator and vice unification minister Chun Hae-sung said, according to Huffington Post.

Chun said it would have a significant meaning if the two Koreas show reconciliation and unity, citing a joint march. He added that North Korea will separately send a 150-strong delegation to the Paralympics.

Meanwhile, Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono said the world must not be naive about North Korea’s “charm offensive” over the upcoming Winter Olympics. Several nations meeting in Vancouver, Canada, agreed on Tuesday to consider tougher sanctions to press North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons.

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