Tensions flare on Korean Peninsula amid slow progress
North Korea sent a rare message in late January 2018 calling for talks about unification that eliminated input from other countries.
What seemed like one more step forward for the two Koreas — during the same month they reopened a communication hotline for the first time in nearly two years — ended in a setback when North Korea canceled a joint cultural performance a mere five days after calling for more contact and cooperation.
The joint cultural performance had been scheduled to take place February 4, 2018, in the North Korean territory of Mount Kumpang to mark the Winter Olympics, according to Reuters. South Koreans have complained about a combined women’s ice hockey team, which would be the only one with athletes representing the two Koreas during the Winter Olympics, calling the unified team unfair to South Korean players and filing petitions expressing their dissent, Reuters reported. That upset North Korea.
The North described its endeavors to participate in the Olympics as “sincere” and blamed South Korean media for the hiccup. According to the North, South Korean media has encouraged “insulting” public sentiment regarding the North’s Olympics engagement and the North’s plans to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of its military on February 8, 2018, one day before the Olympics’ opening ceremony. (Pictured: North Korean women’s ice hockey players arrive at the South Korea’s national training center in Jincheon, South Korea, on January 25, 2018.)
Just five days before this latest spat, North Korea sent a message saying all Koreans should “promote contact, travel, cooperation between North and South Korea,” according to Reuters. The message from Pyongyang went on to say the North intended to “smash” any reunification challenges that arose. It also cited military tension as a “fundamental obstacle” to improved relations on the peninsula and said military drills with “outside forces” had hindered the development of a better relationship between the North and the South, according to Reuters.
North Korea has a history of last-minute cancelations. Some analysts suggest the North is attempting to use improved relations with the South as leverage to weaken the strong U.S.-South Korea relationship, according to The Associated Press.
It remained unclear how this latest tiff might affect other planned cooperation between the North and South during the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.