The year 2018 has barely started but already it’s a landmark year for the Korean peninsula. In the latest advancement in inter-Korean relations, North Korea and South Korea announced Wednesday that they have agreed to form the first joint Olympic team for next month’s Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
After decades of animosity that bordered on full-blown nuclear warfare, the two countries will march together under a “unification flag” — which features a borderless depiction of the peninsula in blue over a white backdrop — during the opening ceremony.
According to The Associated Press, the countries will also have a unified women’s ice hockey team.
During a visit to the training facility, South Korean President Moon Jae-in assured players that the decision to unify is a good one.
“I don’t know if it will happen, but a joint team will be a good opportunity for ice hockey to shed its sorrow as a less-preferred sport as many Koreans will take interest,” he said.
The South Korean Unification Ministry announced the plan, adding that hopefully the unification is a sign of future stability between the two nations.
Chun Hae-sung, the South Korean vice unification minister, expressed pleasant disbelief with the improvements.
“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.” Hae-sung said. “It would have a significant meaning if the South and North show reconciliation and unity, for example through a joint march.”
Alongside the North Korean athletes at the Olympic games, there will be a delegation of cheerleaders, artists, and Taekwondo athletes.
The International Olympic Committee, which will make the final decision on the matter, said in a statement Wednesday that it has “taken note of a number of interesting proposals from different sources,” adding:
There are many considerations with regard to the impact of these proposals on the other participating NOCs (national Olympic committees) and athletes. After having taken all this into consideration, the IOC will take its final decisions on Saturday in Lausanne.
Although North and South Korea are technically still at war with one another, the recent improvements have alleviated much of the tension that has plagued the region for decades.
Nonetheless, the sudden uptick in amiability has come as a shock to many international observers. In the last two months alone, much of the world has nervously watched North Korea’s increasingly unpredictable actions, including the Hwasong-15 ballistic missile launch in late November, the possible spread of “ghost disease,” and multiple accusations of ransomware attacks.