South Korea normally encourages North Koreans to defect, but not at next month’s Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang. The reason: Both countries want to avoid a confrontation at such a sensitive time with the whole world watching.
Both sides want the Olympics to go smoothly. A defection would be a major embarrassment for North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and a major blow to South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who has made peace overtures to the North a central policy.
The two countries will march in the opening ceremony behind the same flag, and the women’s ice hockey team will be the first with players from both countries. North Korea also will send a 230-member cheering squad and a 30-member taekwondo demonstration team.
In addition, a 140-member orchestra from the North will be part of the delegation and is expected to perform in the South Korean capital of Seoul, 80 miles west of the Olympic site, and Gangneung, a city hosting some of the events.
The discussions in Panmunjom have not resulted in any major diplomatic breakthroughs and are not designed to reach an agreement on North Korea’s controversial nuclear and ballistic missile development. But Moon sees the Games as an opportunity to lessen tensions, which could lead to broader agreements, and has staked much of his political reputation on hopes the North’s participation will go off without a hitch.