Beware wishful thinking

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Beware wishful thinking

North Korea’s participation in the PyeongChang Winter Olympics is quickly gaining momentum after a delegation of artists arrived in South Korea on Sunday to check their performance venues in Seoul and Gangneung ahead of the Games. Despite controversy over both sides’ hurried agreement to form a single team less than a month before the Olympics, the decision to form a single women’s ice hockey team and carry a unified flag of the Korean Peninsula in the opening ceremony is a significant step forward amid heightened tensions over North Korea’s weapons program. We hope it paves the way to building peace in the peninsula.

However, the lead-up to the agreement showed many problems. North Korea abruptly canceled the delegation’s trip to Seoul only to reverse that decision on Sunday. Rather than expressing regret over Pyongyang’s aberrant behavior, our government asked the press to restrain from negative reports about it. If the North really delayed the delegation’s visit to tame our government and media, it has already achieved some results.

Our government also pushed for a unified women’s hockey team despite a majority of South Koreans opposing it. The decision to include three North Korean players in the game roster has deprived three South Korean players of their precious opportunity to play. The team’s bigger size — a whopping 12 more than competitors — will almost certainly raise the issue of fairness and trigger controversy over who’s responsible for the expected poor performances stemming from the hurried formation of a single team.

We don’t find fault with the Moon Jae-in administration’s effort to link the Olympics to his peace initiative for the Korean Peninsula, but the government must think about why its move faces increasing public disgruntlement. Until a month ago, North Korea fired one missile after another to finalize its nuclear weapons program. Under such circumstances, no South Korean would believe that the nuclear conundrum will be solved if the government stages a “joint hosting” of the Games.

The government must have a balanced sense of reality. South Korean and American forces are discussing their schedule for joint military exercises, which were delayed to after the Olympics. If the government tries to ease sanctions on North Korea and increase exchange with the recalcitrant state under such an atmosphere, it will lose its hard-earned “driver’s seat” on the peninsula. We urge the administration not to go beyond international norms like UN sanctions on the rogue state.

JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 22, Page 30
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