Pyongyang’s weighty promiseA rare scene - probably a landmark moment - in inter-Korean history is expected to take place in Pyongyang before this year’s Chuseok holiday. North Korean officials said they will allow for the first time the raising of the South Korean flag and playing of the South Korean national anthem, if South Koreans athletes win gold medals during the five-day 2013 Asian Cup and Interclub Weightlifting Championship that starts on Sept. 12 in Pyongyang.
A 41-member team from South Korea will cross the border today and return home Sept. 18. The Unification Ministry endorsed our team’s participation in the games. If the South Korean flag is raised and national anthem played as promised, it could be a symbolic prelude to normalization of inter-Korean relations.
The South Korean government has allowed the raising of the North Korean flag and playing of the North Korean national anthem at international sports events in South Korea starting with the 2002 Busan Asian Games. But Pyongyang has refused to reciprocate. As a result, the third qualifying match between the two Koreas in the Asian league for the 2010 World Cup games in South Africa had to be changed to Shanghai - instead of the original venue of Pyongyang - because North Korea had stuck to its ban of the South Korean flag and anthem.
Acknowledging the South Korean flag and anthem in international games North Korea hosts could suggest that North Korea is more ready to comply with international customs and norms. The move is not insignificant when considering that most inter-Korean conflicts have stemmed from North Korea’s utter disregard for global regulations and standards.
North Korea informed all 15 participating nations of the Asian Cup and Interclub Weightlifting Championship that it will raise their flags and play their anthems according to international customs. The South Korean Weightlifting Federation sought confirmation that the rule also applies to South Korean athletes. Pyongyang sent a separate confirmation to Seoul through the Asian Weightlifting Federation.
It is the first willing and positive action from Pyongyang since inter-Korean relations turned chilly in 2008. President Park Geun-hye has been championing the vision of building mutual trust through reciprocal respect and compliance with small but important practices and promises for the greater goal of establishing lasting peace and co-prosperity on the Korean Peninsula. We hope North Korea will honor its promise. Otherwise, relations between Seoul and Pyongyang could yet again suffer a serious setback.