Korea misses Olympic opportunity

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Korea misses Olympic opportunity

The Sochi Winter Olympics kicked off with a record 6,000 athletes and staff from 88 countries arriving on the coast of the Black Sea. The extravagance of the preparations - turning a decaying summer resort into a winter paradise - and a strongly-themed opening ceremony, celebrating Russia’s rebound and millennium might, echoes a similar message to the one China’s sent via the 2008 Summer Olympics. The Games are taking place against a backdrop of unprecedented geopolitical tensions amid mounting territorial disputes and military rivalries in the Pacific, which underscore the intense competition over leadership in a new global order. Despite high hopes for its national team in the sporting arena during the two-week event, South Korea so far has demonstrated a questionable performance in the diplomatic field.

Chinese President Xi Jinping flew into Sochi and held a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin before the opening ceremony. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe arrived before the opening ceremony and is also due to hold a tete?a?tete with the Russian leader, who faces criticism and global concerns over his country’s human rights record, a row over gay rights and militant attacks, and terrorist threats. Sports often serve as an effective stage for diplomacy as usual formalities can be dropped. While enjoying honest athletic contests and celebrating sportsmanship, leaders can converse more freely and heartily. The Chinese and Russian leaders shared a common goal in their summit talks on the Olympics scene - to show a renewed alliance to the United States, which has become assertive about Asian and Pacific affairs. Beijing also needs Moscow’s support in its spat with Tokyo over rocky islets in the East China Sea that both claim as theirs. The Japanese leader could not have tolerated the media hype about a new China-Russia alliance. Moscow cannot but appreciate Abe’s presence in the opening ceremony with other key members of the Group of Seven - the United States, France, Britain and Germany - amid controversy over human rights issues.

Japan, snubbed by China and South Korea, has been eager to court Russia. Including the Sochi meeting, Abe has met with Putin five times since he took office last year. But South Korea appears to be nonchalant in Sochi’s intense political contest.

President Park Geun-hye is the only leader from the East Asia bloc to miss the opening ceremony. She should have at least sent the prime minister, considering that South Korea will be hosting the 2018 Winter Games. It is a pity that our politics still lack creativity and broad-mindedness.

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