[Viewpoint]Unity is Korea’s missing gold

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[Viewpoint]Unity is Korea’s missing gold

The anti-Korean sentiment among the Chinese revealed at the Beijing Olympic Games concerns many Koreans. There are various analyses about the origin of the antagonism. The most dominant theory is Sinocentrism, which has heightened more than ever during the Olympics.

Another factor is simply bad feelings towards Korea. However, narrow-minded nationalism among some Chinese cannot explain the phenomenon entirely.

The Olympics is already over, but if we were following the Oct. 4 Joint Declaration agreed upon by former president Roh Moo-hyun and North Korean defense commission chairman Kim Jong-il, a cheering squad from South and North Korea would have travelled to Beijing on the Seoul-Shinuiju train.

Earlier this year, Seoul and Pyongyang reached a follow-up agreement to send a joint cheering squad of 300 people on two separate occasions during the Beijing Olympics. The two sides discussed forming a single team for some events, and the South insisted on selecting players based on performance. Meanwhile, the North claimed that teams should include an equal number of players from the South and the North.

However, as the Lee Myung-bak administration took an ambiguous position concerning the Oct. 4 Joint Declaration, Pyongyang’s attitude abruptly changed. In the end, all the plans for the Beijing Olympic Games came to nothing. The last remaining hope was to have the South and North Korean athletes enter the stadium together at the opening ceremony, but it failed to materialize as well. South Korean athletes were the 177th group to enter the ceremony, while North Koreans entered separately as the 180th. Since the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games, a joint entry of the two Koreas had become a tradition at international athletic events, but the eight-year legacy ended.

Throughout the Olympic Games, Chinese spectators turned a cold shoulder to Korean athletes. As if they had agreed in advance, the audience would suddenly stop its applause when the Korean team appeared. Whenever Korean athletes played, the Chinese openly cheered for the opponents. Some ticket scalpers would not sell tickets to Koreans. It might be my imagination, but I suspect that the anti-Korean sentiment among the Chinese might have a certain correlation with the cold air flowing between the South and the North.

Would the Chinese be so icy to Korean athletes if the South and North Korean teams had been friendly to each other? If the athletes from the two Koreas entered together and a joint cheering squad filled the stadium whenever either team played, would the Chinese be so indifferent and arrogant towards Koreans? I don’t think they would have acted the same.

The joint cheering squad of the South and North Korea would have been a big story of the Beijing Olympics, and even the Chinese who were most eager to pick on Korea would have been overwhelmed by the joint squad’s enthusiasm and would not have dared to openly show anti-Korean sentiment.

Unfortunately, the South and the North failed to display harmony. The new South Korean administration ignored an agreement that its predecessor had made with the North. Pyongyang failed to separate politics from sports. As a result, the two Koreas showed a lukewarm attitude toward each other at an Olympics that would have been the perfect chance to show reconciliation and cooperation to the international community.

Naturally, the Chinese are in high spirits and look down on us. They might think that if some nation were held accountable for the South-North divisiveness, the South is more to blame for the situation as it has the upper hand in every way but failed to generously embrace the North. The pettiness of Koreans might have influenced the pettiness of the Chinese.

Every citizen of the Republic of Korea is proud of Korean athletes’ spectacular accomplishments - winning 13 gold medals and ranking seventh in the overall standing. However, the time for national celebration is over, and we need to quietly reflect. It is time for politicians to keep quite after bragging about Korea’s overall medal count as if it was a sign of being one of the seven powers of the world.

Amid the excitement of the gold medal rush, we might have missed one gold medal that is truly important. If the South and North Korea acted maturely and displayed unity at the Beijing Olympic Games, the world would have applauded us, and such a recognition would have been as precious as the 15 gold medals that the two Koreas. combined, had won.

*The writer is an editorial writer and traveling correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.
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