Koreas unite for Olympics, while Washington bangs drums of war

At a time of unprecedented goodwill between Seoul and Pyongyang over the Winter Olympics, the US has decided to double down on its inflammatory rhetoric, undermining a fragile thaw on the Korean Peninsula.

On the eve of the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, one would be forgiven for temporarily forgetting history’s bitter divisions on the Korean Peninsula. The two estranged Koreas have decided to field a joint team for this year’s Winter Games, which will be lavished with the moral support of a gaggle of unbearably charming cheerleaders from the North.

On the sidelines of the opening ceremony on Friday, South Korean President Moon Jae-in plans to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, and other senior North Korean officials who will be attending the Games. The visit will mark the first time a member of North Korea’s ruling family has visited the South since the 1950-53 Korean War, according to the Associated Press.

The North Korean delegation has said it has no intention of meeting with its US counterparts in South Korea – and with good reason. Despite the rare rapprochement between the two Koreas, the United States appears to be hell-bent on torpedoing the Games’ positive vibes, accusing Pyongyang of using the Olympics to whitewash its human rights abuses.

“We will not allow North Korea to hide behind the Olympic banner the reality that they enslave their people and threaten the wider region,” US Vice President Mike Pence said Wednesday after meetings with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo. Washington has also threatened the North with a new batch of tough sanctions.

“We also reaffirm our commitment to continue well beyond the Olympics — when the Olympics are long a distant memory — to continue to isolate North Korea economically and diplomatically,” Pence said, answering a question from Washington Post columnist Josh Rogin.

President Moon, meanwhile, insisted on making the best of the Olympics in terms of improving relations between the Koreas.

“We certainly hope to utilize this opportunity to the maximum so that the PyeongChang Winter Olympic Games can become a venue that leads to dialogue for the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula as well as to establishing peace on the Korean peninsula,” Moon said.

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©  Joshua Roberts

Beijing and Moscow have warned against the destructive approach at a time when the international community is promoting peaceful means of solving the crisis on the peninsula.

While Beijing welcomes Korean efforts to “open the door to peace in the region,” other nations should be mindful not to slam shut any diplomatic doors, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi said on Thursday.

“You can’t have it that one person opens the door and another closes it,” Yi said, as cited by Reuters.

Moscow was “deeply disappointed” by statements made by Pence about US plans to impose tougher, more draconian sanctions on North Korean, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said on Wednesday, describing the misplaced threat as “creating a new atmosphere of tension” in the region.

“Right now, when there seems to be a relative calm and there are signs that Pyongyang and Seoul will continue direct dialogue at the political level, the US side is opposing and in fact demonstrates a lack of interest in ensuring that these processes of forging an exchange of views between the north and the south in the Korean peninsula continue,” Ryabkov told RIA.

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