Wednesday, April 9, 2014

No unified Korean team at Incheon Asian Games

Unified team nixed due to recent tensions with North, even as Pres. Park pays lip service to increased inter-Korean cooperation
By Choi Hyun-june, staff reporter

The South Korean government announced that it would not permit the formation of a joint South and North Korean team during the 17th Asian Games, which will be held in Incheon in September, and that it would not allow the teams to enter the opening and closing ceremonies together. The government’s decision was motivated by recent incidents, including artillery exchange by North and South Korea around the Northern Limit Line (NLL) in the West (Yellow) Sea and small North Korean drones that crashed in South Korean territory. The fact remains that the South Korean government is declining to take part in even the most basic kinds of exchange and cooperation with North Korea just one week after Park made her Dresden address.
During a briefing on progress and plans for exchange and cooperation held on Apr. 4, the Unification Ministry expressed its position that having a unified Korean team, a joint entrance, shared cheering section, and a joint concert during this year’s Asian Games in Incheon would not be appropriate.

“In order to put together a unified Korean team, there are a lot of things we would have to decide, including the unified flag and the unified song,” said Lee Su-young, chief of exchange and cooperation for the Unification Ministry. “After deliberating with ministries concerned, including the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism and the Office of the Prime Minister, we reached the conclusion that forming a unified Korean team and making a joint entrance would not be appropriate given the current situation on the Korean peninsula.”

Given that five months still remain before the Asian Games take place, it might have been premature for the South Korean government to make such a decision. “Some in the sports community are already talking about the unified Korean team, and the government made its decision this early because of expectations that it would also become an issue during the June 4 local elections,” said Lee.

However, the government’s announcement of its guidelines may itself reduce the chances for an improvement in relations between North and South Korea. Declining to put together a unified Korean team, which would have been difficult to pull off anyway, is one thing. But emphatically stating so far in advance that there will be no joint entrance or combined cheering sections - activities that have taken place several times in the past - could send the wrong kind of message to North Korea.

“This decision is the exact opposite of what Park said in her speech about increasing exchange and cooperation,” said Kim Chang-soo, director of research at the Korea National Strategy Institute. “Not only that, but in practical terms, the Korean public is not that interested in the Asian Games. It seems very indiscreet for the government to move so quickly to prevent the joint entrance and the creation of a unified team, which would have been necessary if only to ensure the success of the games.”

Nevertheless, the Unification Ministry is still allowing North Korea to take part in the Asian Games, and it has also indicated that it will provide any support that may be necessary for the North Korean team to join the games.

In addition, the Unification Ministry said that it would consider approving the plan to light the torch simultaneously on Halla Mountain and Baekdu Mountain, depending on how North Korea responds. This was the method used to light the torches in Sep. 2002, when the Asian Games were held in Busan. South and North have entered together at the Sydney Olympics in 2000, the 2002 Asian Games in Busan, the Athens Olympics in 2004 and the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin.

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