The Two Koreas

The historical land formerly known as Korea has been divided into North Korea and South Korea since the end of the Second World War in 1945. After the Japanese empire was disassembled (they had ruled Korea from 1910) at the end of WWII, the Korean peninsula was divided in two. The Americans controlled the south and the Soviet Union installed a communist regime in the north. Tensions between the two sides due to opposed views on democracy and communism led to the Korean War in 1950 after the north invaded the south. The three-year-long war caused the deaths of 2.5 million people but ended in stalemate, and those same divisions installed mid-way through the 20th century still remain in place today.

The Fall Out from the Korean War

As far as the US were concerned, the invasion from North Korea was no longer a dispute between unstable dictatorships; instead, the US saw the invasion as the first step in a “communist campaign to take over the world,” reports Sky News. This was one of the situations that led to the Cold War.

21st Century Korea

Fast forward 25 or so years and it looks like the two Koreas are making headway. In “the first high-level talks between the countries in more than two years,” BBC News reports that both Koreas have agreed to march under a single “united” flag at the upcoming 2018 Winter Olympic Games (February 2018) in Pyeongchang, South Korea. There is talk of a joint women’s ice hockey team between the states in the games; if this happens, it will be the first time sportspersons from both North and South Korea have competed together in any Olympics.

BBC News reports the “reunited” flag represents aspirations from the two Koreas to end nearly “seven decades of division.” North Korea previously boycotted the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea. Moon Jae-in, President of South Korea believes that North Korea’s participation in the games will “help improve inter-Korean relationships.” BBC defence and diplomatic correspondent Jonathan Marcus adds that the unity represents a “moment of hope in a crisis that at times has appeared to be steadily moving towards another war on the Korean peninsula.”

The agreement came about in timely fashion when the isolated state offered to send an Olympic team to the games during relations in the New Year. Prior to this, tensions had “reached their highest point in decades” in Korea due to North Korea’s recent nuclear escalation – Kim Jong-un (Supreme Leader of North Korea) is fearful that the US is planning a military strike against him. The BBC reports the decision to reunite for the Olympics marks a significant “thaw in relations” between the two Koreas however, the question on everyone’s lips is: ‘is North Korea and South Korea’s unity for the Winter Olympics a sign of things to come?’ Are these inter-Korean talks a starting point for tackling bigger problems? Time will tell.

Tourists and Ticket Sales

The 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang is said to be costing South Korea around $12.9 billion, but ticket sales are currently struggling to match the pace set during South Korea’s previous games; just 61% of the tickets have been sold with the opening ceremony less than a month away. Interestingly, the locals don’t believe it’s North Korea and South Korea’s tentative relationship that’s deterring people; they say there were more safety concerns during the 1988 Games in Seoul. The conclusion drawn by sports experts is that the lack of sales is due to the quality of the games themselves, including who will be participating. The world’s largest nation, Russia, will not feature in the Olympics as they’ve been banned due to state-sponsored doping; their entry would have undoubtedly been a further ticketing source. Additionally, the Games’ hockey tournament will not feature some of the sports best athletes; the National Hockey League (NHL) decided against sending their players to the games. The league had been looking for conciliatory offers from the International Olympic Committee and/or the NHL Players’ Association in order to placate an ownership group increasingly unhappy with the league shutting down to make way for the Olympic tournament. Others have stated that the location is “less than stellar for tourists,” with CNBC stating “Pyeongchang isn’t a household name” like previous hosts such as Vancouver or Salt Lake City. On a positive note, all 12 venues for the 2018 Olympics are “ready to go” and are within half an hour of each other, making travelling between them easier for spectators; previous games (such as Rio’s Olympic Games in 2016) have seen hosts scrambling to be ready in time.

Pyeongchang was hoping to capitalise on hosting the Olympics and wanted to increase tourism in the region in 2018 from three million visitors to five, but lack lustre ticket sales are making this look less likely. The hosts have splashed out on six new venues for the games (and refurbished six existing), and many hotels and resorts in the area have made significant renovations with the aim of attracting visitors, but the question is: ‘if you build it, will they come?’ Come the closing ceremony on Sunday, 25th February, we should have that answer.

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