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Illinois State Professor: North Korea and South Korea joint Olympic team brings both promise and concern

image of winter on the quad

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s New Year’s address stating that he would be open to the idea of a joint Olympic team with South Korea came to fruition with a joint women’s hockey team competing at the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea. It is the first joint team among the Koreas since 1991.

Finance, insurance & law Professor S.J. Chang may have left his native land when he was just 29 years old, but he has a lot to say on the topic.

“Pyeongchang needed positive publicity because many people only get to see the negatives, such as Korea being incredibly dangerous due to being one of the most heavily armed places in the world,” said Chang.

Twelve North Korean athletes were greeted by their new teammates with flower bouquets upon their arrival in South Korea. The players then shared the same locker room and the lockers of North Korean players were purposely placed in between those of their South Korean teammates in efforts to unify the team. The joint team marched together under a single flag during the opening ceremony on February 9th. They wrapped up their Olympic run on February 20th, finishing in eighth place.

“Despite those peaceful and friendly gestures between South and North surrounding the Pyeongchang Olympics, there is doubt about the real benefit of the North Korean presence in the Games. That is because time and again North Korea has shown the world how whimsical, unpredictable, and irrational they are,” said Chang.

Although the decision was made in attempts to achieve peace and unity, many South Koreans do not approve. Rallies have been occurring and activists burned Kim’s photo along with a North Korean flag.

South Koreans are protesting because they believe South Korean Olympians are being used as political pawns. They believe that forcing a team to unify will not fix the ongoing rivalry.

“Today the North might appear very friendly, but tomorrow they may turn hostile and belligerent again. You never know what their next move will be,” said Chang.

Chang believes that tensions are always high between Korea, but they are especially high at the moment.

However, Chang said, “South Korea has a great opportunity to show the world that they are capable of hosting such a sophisticated event, as well as showcase their high tech economy. Hosting the 2018 Winter Olympics provides Pyeongchang with a chance to proudly present itself to the world.”

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