2 Koreas to Share Flag at Olympics
Mark Angelo, CEO, Yorkville Advisors
For the first time since the war, in a move that mystified some and enraged others, Korean athletes –
from the north and the south – paraded together in the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
For some, the decision signaled a new political reality on the Korean Peninsula, a time of hope for
reconciliation that might ease tensions along one of the world’s most dangerous borders. Others saw
it as a betrayal of the values that separate the two countries. Now, nearly two decades later, the two
Koreas will once again march together under the same flag at the Olympic Games.
And, once again, as many are calling this a sign of renewed hope, especially after two years of
escalated tension, some, especially in South Korea, are nowhere near as enthusiastic about the
situation. For some in the South, marching with the North, especially as the Games are being held in
Pyeongchang, feels like capitulation to the Kim family.
But, at least for the time being, that perspective appears in the opposition. Delegations from the two
countries have agreed on a series of rapprochement deals to encourage the international community
to embrace the Olympics in Korea. Thanks to tensions between the two countries, consumer activity
related to the Games – hotel rooms, travel, etc. – has been in a bit of a slump as compared to
That begs the question: if direct economic pressure is good enough for a temporary halt to
escalating tensions, could a more permanent solution be found in a similar way? That’s a question
many in Korea are wondering about, but most people are not openly discussing, at least at this point.
That narrative only goes so far before someone brings up the assumption that Kim’s New Year’s
Day invitation to march together was nothing more than a political ploy to ease sanctions on the
north. Public opinion in the South is decidedly mixed. While opinion polls in the South agree that
most Koreans support the North’s involvement in the Games, about half are against marching under
the same flag as their northern neighbors.
And this is where the politics needs to create and distribute a new narrative. If the countries do want
to ease tensions, they need to make the people – on both sides – believe they really mean it. At this
point, there’s very little consensus on that point, and it’s a huge hurdle going forward.