This is Kim Hangyun’s blog post regarding the February Monthly Student Opinions theme “Pyeongchang Winter Olympics”. He is a senior at the Elliott School of International Affairs, an intern at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), and the Senior Advisor to Korean International Studies Organization (KISO). Aside from current positions, Hangyun has expanded insights from previous professional experiences at two law firms, Deloitte and the Korean Embassy in Uruguay.
The content of this article does not reflect the official opinion of the George Washington University Institute for Korean Studies. Responsibility for the information and views expressed in the article lies entirely with the author(s).
It’s almost here: the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in Pyeongchang, Korea. Picking up from the left-wing regime’s two unsuccessful attempts, President Lee Myungbak easily secured the bid for the 2018 games, marking it Korea’s second Olympics since 1988. The nation roared in a decade-waited excitement as they breathlessly watched the announcement, with high hopes over the moon.
As the Olympics near, all eyes should be on Pyeongchang. Instead, Pyongyang stole the show and hijacked spotlights towards North Korea – all thanks to our President Moon Jae-in. An ex-human rights lawyer and still an advocate of the failed Sunshine Policy, Moon has obstinately called for appeasement to Pyongyang. He has already sought ‘South-North Economic Union’ by openly supporting reopening of the Kaesong industrial park and tourist visits to Mount Kumgang, amidst international constraints including the United Nations sanctions. Despite continued threats, Moon vowed for an ‘aid’ package worth $8 million to North Korea as well.
Moon’s lunacy reached yet another peak when the Blue House pressed ahead with the joint women’s ice hockey team as an opportunity for détente. As a sacrifice for political purposes, 23 athletes of the South Korean team were suddenly merged with a dozen unqualified players from the North, which head coach Sarah Murray said she was “shocked” and her players will “suffer damage.” Quite contradictory to Moon’s self-praise as the “communicating president,” South Korean team was not directly informed about the government’s proposal to form a single Korean team until the very last moment. Some players complained on social media about giving up spots last minute to North Koreans, but were immediately confronted with cyberbullying from Moon’s ‘Red Guards’ who so-proudly call themselves “Moonshine Knights (달빛기사단)” or “Honey Moon Badgers (문꿀오소리).” What politicians have not solved should not be tossed over to sportspeople.
Added to the joint team madness, Koreans were pained to the core as the Blue House announced the plan for athletes to march behind the “Unification Flag,” in place of the legitimate Korean flag, during the opening ceremonies. Moon also made concessions to replace Korea’s national anthem with “Arirang” folk tune. The proud flag and anthem, which our brave men and women fought so hard and shed dearest blood for, were abandoned in a slight second without a single public discussion. The Olympic Games, where athletes should be the one and only focus, now became invested with political meaning.
How completely out of touch can the government get? Such a hastily made deal was immediately confronted with intense backlash. The most recent poll reveals that 72% of the respondents did not welcome the joint one-Korea team, among which 82% of the millennials and 30s – Moon’s core supporter group – opposed. A four-minute rap song criticizing Moon for turning the Olympics into Pyongyang’s propaganda tool has been trending with more than 1.3 million views. The song replaces the host city Pyeongchang with Pyongyang as a mockery. Frustrated at the Blue House’s amateurish policies, with intensifying housing market polarization and the highest unemployment rate since the 1997 Financial Crisis already suffocating people, a new nickname ridiculing Moon’s ineptness gained popularity: “Moon Catastrophe (문재앙).”
The government failed every measure to suppress the public outburst. Prime Minister Lee Nak-yeon’s reckless remark on women’s hockey team being out of medal range anyway only fueled the anger. Sports Minister Do Jong-hwan joined his colleagues to defend the joint team proposal by assuring that no South Korean athletes would be left out, yet news reports revealed some players were excluded from the final entry list. Empty promises made; empty promises broken.
The reason Koreans have lost faith on Moon is because he has lost touch with people. Young Koreans increasingly see North Korea as a separate nation, and only 4 out of 10 believe reunification is necessary. Moon’s regime and Pyongyang emphasize that all Koreans belong to the same “minzok(people),” but how can South Koreans possibly identify with North Koreans when the Kim dynasty never hesitates to backstab the innocent South?
The images of North Korea’s torpedo attacks against ROKS Cheonan, the bombardment of Yeonpyeong island and endless nuclear threats are vividly engrained in memory. The younger Koreans hence, unlike the older generations like Moon with family ties in the North, share hawkish views on Pyongyang. Besides, the attitudes toward bloodlines and race purity have changed as the notion of “minzok” and nationalism faded. Suffering from the worst economic performance since 2008, Koreans are even more unwilling to blithely give financial handouts and roster spots on the hockey team to their perceived enemy.
Essentially, Moon has written indulgence to Pyongyang. Gaining confidence from Moon’s radically submissive attitude, North Korea has quadrupled their demands to incapacitate sanctions. To host North Korean art troupe, Moon made an exception to “5.24 Measure” for the barred “Mangyongbong-92” ferry. The ship, which even Russia refused entry last year to comply with the UN sanctions, was low on fuel and Pyongyang demanded the South to refuel it.
Seoul already sought an exception from Washington for an Asiana Airlines charter plane to take South Korean players to North Korea and is talking with Washington and the UN to clear the North Korean delegates’ visit. The delegation includes Kim Jong-un’s sister Kim Yo-jong, who was blacklisted by the United States Treasury in 2017 and had overseas assets frozen, and Choe Hwi, who was on the UN Security Council sanctions list as well. As a yet another olive branch, Moon urged the US to postpone joint military exercise until after the Olympics. Inter-Korean relations have never resembled master-servant relationship more than now. If Korea continues to retreat under the pressure from Pyongyang, then eventually Seoul will face the final demand “the ultimatum.”
To give a fair chance, I do empathize with the view that a dialogue between the Republic of Korea and the unlawful occupants in the North is necessary to establish a degree of stability on the peninsula. Even with THAAD, Korea has no active defense system to protect all 50 million citizens and 230,000 Americans in the South against a barrage of North Korean artillery, let alone a missile strike. Only an irrational warmonger would actively pursue a military option towards Pyongyang since a strike would only delay – not eradicate – their deep-hidden nuclear and missile programs. Engagement is, by far, the most promising and peaceful way to resolve the problem.
What is problematic is that Moon’s policy of accommodation lacks a solid basis. An approach to North Korea should remain composed, be based on a strict adherence to domestic and international measures, and must not alienate allies. Up to this point, Moon has managed to do the exact opposite – he has voluntarily punched a hole through the maximum-pressure coalition and gave more room for Pyongyang to achieve its nuclear objective. “To give, or not to give?” should not be a question in the first place, and North Korea deserves no special treatment in this global festival of athletes.
Every lesson in history tells the greater risk lies in appeasement. From 2000 Sydney Olympics to 2014 Incheon Asian Games, all attempts to moderate North Korean behavior through sports diplomacy have proven to be unfruitful. History shows that extending an olive branch to Pyongyang did not reduce tensions, and gestures of peace from North Korea never represented the regime’s actual behavior. Yet with each new vain attempt, optimists like Moon and the Democratic Party anticipate the appeasement to work this time. Well, North Korea’s official newspaper “Rodong Sinmun” threatened on 7 February that inter-Korean relations will “stumble” and face “severe ends” once the joint military exercise is resumed after the Olympic Games: After all the exceptional treatments received, Pyongyang is already looking into an ‘exit strategy.’
Pyeongchang 2018 was a good chance to attest that Korea stands resolute with the international society against hyperbolic threats from the rogue neighbor in the North, and a prime opportunity to expose human rights calamities inside the most repressive political dynasty. In common with shunning of South Africa from the Olympics for 24 years as a protest against apartheid, Seoul should have boycotted North Korea’s participation in Pyeongchang in response to widespread human rights violations committed by the regime.
Kim Jong-un continues to generate fearful obedience through arbitrary detention and forced labor, tightening travel restrictions, and systematically persecuting its own people. A renowned judge and Auschwitz survivor Thomas Buergenthal concluded that political prisons in the North are perhaps even worse than the Nazi concentration camps. It is the divine imperative, not as a Korean but as a responsible human being, to act now.
Ex-human rights lawyer Moon Jae-in’s willful ignorance on North Korean human rights, along with a series of other nonsenses, reveals the height of irresponsibility, and is the reason why people would never trust the left-wing regime with North Korean issues again. It took 11 years for the North Korea Human Rights Act of 2016 to pass due to stubborn “nays” from Moon and his left-wing politicians, and his North Korea Human Rights Team within the National Human Rights Commission saw 50% budget cut. A president who repetitively boasts his 20 years of career as a human rights lawyer should do far better than this, instead of turning a blind eye. At best Moon is incompetent, at worst he is complicit.
During the presidential campaign last year, Moon did not hesitate to emphasize his slogan “Opportunity will be fair; the process will be fixed and the result just.” Yet in these abnormal times the government took away the chance to compete; disregarded the preparation process without listening to its people, and justice seems far away. I ask: Much anticipated for the “Pyongyang Olympics?” You and I have the courage to say, “No thanks, not anymore.” This is neither a fair opportunity nor a fixed process, nor a just result.