North Korea and the Olympics: What is their Strategy?

As you may know, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, known to us as North Korea, caused quite a stir at the 2018 Winter Olympic Games hosted in Pyeongchang, South Korea. From cheerleading squads to Kim Jong Un’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, the world has been exposed through media attention to classical North Korean propaganda in its purest form.

On January 17, 2018, the North and South Korean governments announced that North and South Korea would march into the games under one united Korean banner. Similar gestures were made back in 2000, 2004, and 2006, intended to show that the two Koreas were striving to come together peacefully to one day unite the peninsula under one Korean government for the first time in decades.

This leads us to the question: what exactly is the goal of North Korea?

From a North Korean perspective, reunification is just as desirable as it is for the South Koreans. The question at the heart of the conflict is which regime will rule: the authoritarian Kim regime of the North or the freely elected republican government of the South. The obstacle for both is not the endgame but rather the method that would unite the two countries. North Korea sees South Korea as a land occupied by what they would call “Western Imperialists” or “American Imperialists”. They see the United States as an obstacle in the way of reunification and thus feel animosity towards America. South Korea, on the other hand, sees the North as brothers yet they feel sympathetic towards them even though they understand the threat the government of the North poses.

During the 2018 Olympic Games’ opening ceremony, the world got a glimpse of the ideal of one Korea united under one flag. Even though the flag may symbolize the unity the world seeks, it certainly has seemed to have led the world to briefly forget the atrocities committed by the North over the past half century and the flagrant threats the North has continued to make over the past year.

North Korea has done quite a fantastic job making their country, athletes, and ferried-in fans look attractive to the world. The darling cheerleading squad made up of 230 members has seemed to receive more social media and US mainstream media facetime than many American athletes. Most of this was probably a plan by Kim Yo Jong, who was the first member of the Kim family to visit South Korea since the Korean War back in the 1950s. It is important to remember that when studying Kim Yo Jong’s presence in South Korea for the opening days of the Games, one should keep in mind that she is a Party official and holds the title of Director of the Propaganda and Agitation, leading all propaganda efforts inside and outside of North Korea.

So while North Korea knows it cannot currently militarily defeat South Korea or its ally the United States to reunite the peninsula at this point in time, it knows that it can begin to drive a wedge between the South Korean and US governments using its propaganda tactics. The purpose for this is so that the South would be more open in the future to potentially aid the regime and leave itself vulnerable to the North. North Korea has a strong and experienced propaganda wing and knows how to use it. Whether it is by playing the pity card, stating that its citizens need foreign aid, or showing off their good heartedness by putting smiles on display on the international stage at the Olympics, North Korea knows how to effectively get the world’s attention and benefit from it in some cases.

The people of the United States, including the press who gave North Korea the attention it sought, need to be aware of the North’s strategies employed in order to drive a wedge between the US and South Korea. Philip Bump of the Washington Post posted a now-deleted tweet on Twitter that stated “Kim Jong Un's sister with deadly side-eye at Pence.” In the replies, many people have praised her in an attempt to denounce the Vice President of the United States. Though people may disagree with Pence politically or find him a morally deficient person, the fact that they praise a high official in a autocratic regime that quite literally enslaves and kills its own citizens is repulsive. CNN even ran a headline that stated “Kim Jong Un's Sister is Stealing the Show at the Winter Olympics.” Within the article they mentioned, “If ‘diplomatic dance’ were an event at the Winter Olympics, Kim Jong Un's younger sister would be favored to win gold. With a smile, a handshake and a warm message in South Korea's presidential guest book, Kim Yo Jong has struck a chord with the public just one day into the PyeongChang Games.”

Positive headlines about a regime with nothing positive about it only masks the truth. These sort of headlines and social media responses that view the regime of North Korea in such a light manner feed right into what North Korea wants: an unresponsive, apathetic US public that will not care about the North’s efforts nor about the security of the South Korean people. While America may not be able to fall militarily to the North Koreans, it can certainly fall with regards to keeping the regime accountable for its actions. Americans forgetting the crimes committed by the North Korean state and its influence in the world’s drug, terror financing, and counterfeit markets would be only a good thing for the North Korean state that already seeks to dominate the peninsula with its ideology and regime. America needs to keep its resolve and prevent North Korea from driving any wedge, no matter how big or small, between the South Korean-US alliance. All of this, of course, will have to begin with the media and Americans refraining from legitimizing the Kim regime in any way.

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