Stop sports events with North KoreaWhen a local government in Japan designated Feb. 22 as “Takeshima Day” last year, sports exchanges came to a temporary halt. Yet despite a nuclear test by North Korea, nobody has said inter-Korean sports exchanges should suffer.
Even though the latter case has a far more serious impact on our daily life, if anybody asks Seoul officials what will happen to inter-Korean sports exchanges, the likely answer will be nothing ― that the UN resolution adopted in response to the nuclear test does not call for such measures and sporting events should be used to maintain a communications channel with the North.
Seoul has been urged to take a tougher stance against Pyongyang, but it’s in fear of agitating the North and is still holding back on an official response on what it will do with inter-Korean projects as it tries to gauge the political winds.
South Korea’s most ambitious plan with Pyongyang is to launch a joint team for the Beijing Summer Olympics in 2008.
Joint entrances by the two Koreas have been made in the past, but the two have yet to perform under one flag at the Olympics. It would be something to watch, really.
Sadly, under the current circumstances, that's exactly what should not happen.
South Korea is a member of the international community. It will soon be providing the UN with its secretary general. Granted, the security situation on the Korean Peninsula calls for special measures. I do think that engaging the North is important. It gives you an idea of the other side, while direct contact with the North could also develop more trust.
Seoul has engaged the North ― mostly on Pyongyang’s terms ― for almost a decade. Since economically it is better off and believes it has a far more superior system in place called democracy, it let Pyongyang have the louder voice in what could be seen as a grand gesture to its poorer cousin. Having watched inter-Korean talks and the exchanges on various levels, that’s the overall impression I have.
Yet, today one has to ask where this generosity has landed South Korea.
A nuclear test, whether successful or not, in itself is a danger to everyone. If anything, scrapping the plan for a joint team is nothing more than a symbolic gesture. It won’t hurt the North economically and there is no danger of an armed conflict. Could it hurt the imagined leverage that the South has over the North? Possibly. But this is not a time to show affection. No sir! This is a time when the cousin next door needs a tongue-lashing at the least, if not a firm whipping. The worst thing that the South can do at this point is to be perceived as indecisive by its allies.
North Korea will use South Korea when it can and do as it pleases because, unlike Seoul, it has a strategic goal ― which is not simply maintaining a better relationship with the South for the sake of having one. Pyongyang will do what it judges to be necessary for its survival. Seoul may be afraid to enforce any real measures that can hurt the North, but telling Pyongyang that a joint team won’t be launched until the nuclear issue is resolved is one way to send that signal. The right way to address this issue is to halt all sports exchanges with the North, but that probably won’t happen.
by Brian Lee
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