Latest Updates on the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics
On Nov 1, 2017, South Korea received the Olympic flame at the Incheon International Airport, marking 100 days until the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics. Former figure skater and Olympic star, Yuna Kim and Prime Minister Nak-yon Lee ignited the Olympic flame to start the Olympic torch relay. The torch relay will travel 2,018 km around South Korea, carried by 7,500 torchbearers to represent the 75 million people in the Korean Peninsula. The torch will arrive at the Winter Olympics opening ceremony in Pyeongchang on Feb 9, 2018.
In Pyeongchang, the construction of the 35,000-seat outdoor stadium for both the opening and closing ceremonies is nearly complete. South Korean engineering firms are working to ensure all facilities are ready to avoid the problems of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.
The big concern, however, is whether the Winter Olympics will draw crowds and reap long-term economic benefits for South Koreans. The organizers have only been able to sell a little above 30% of the tickets. International tourism in South Korea overall has dropped recently by 24% as tensions remain high with North Korea. South Korea is continuing to encourage North Korea to participate in the Winter Olympics to help ease tensions. North Korea has until the end of December to decide whether to participate. The Olympic venues are 60 miles from the border with North Korea, which is causing security concerns. Earlier, France has suggested it would not send its athletes to the Games if security is not guaranteed. U.K. has an evacuation plan if such a situation arises.
South Korea’s dispute with China over the deployment of the U.S. Army’s Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) has caused China to ban tour packages to South Korea, causing Chinese tourism to sharply decrease. Recenttalks between the two countries may allow more Chinese tourists to return. This is crucial as South Korea wishes to use the Winter Olympics to promote itself as a global destination for winter tourism. South Korea’s think tank,Hyundai Research Institute has earlier projected that the Winter Olympics can draw one million tourists each year and that South Korea can benefit economically by $40 million in winter tourism. However, the current numbers of tourists and continuing costs indicate that those projections may not be met.
South Korea Plans to Deploy a New Military Unit on the Dokdo/Takeshima Islets
South Korea has planned to create a new military unit on the Takeshima/Dokdo Islets, its easternmost island, between 2018 and 2020 to defend its control. Japan strongly opposed this plan. Meanwhile, South Korean civic groups called for an apology from Japan over its claim on Dokdo/Takeshima Islets and urged Japan to abolish Takeshima Day on every year February 22th, designed by Japan's Shimane Prefecture.
South Korea stated that Japan controlled the Takeshima/Dokdo Islets in 1905, after Japan colonized the Korean Peninsula. After World War II, as Japan surrendered, South Korea has sent a small police unit to the islets since 1956. In contrast, Japan claimed it has started to use the Islets as navigational port, docking point for ships, and a fishing ground since the 17th century.
Japan strongly protested South Korea’s plan to install a new military unit on the Takeshima/Dokdo Islets. The Japanese government recently renewed its educational materials regarding Japan’s legitimate claims to the islands on its government website.
Despite the Japanese government’s vocal protests over the South Korean military plan, Japanese citizens have grown less interested in the territorial dispute over the Takeshima/Dokdo Islets, according to surveys conducted by the Japanese Cabinet Office. Because the issue has not affected people’s daily lives, the survey noted that 59.3% of respondents showed interest in Takeshima/Dokdo, a 7.6 percentage point drop from last year.
Kim Jong-un's On the Spot Guidance
In North Korea, one notable leadership practice performed by the ruling Kim clan–starting with Kim Il-Sung, his son, and now his grandson and current leader Kim Jong-un–is “on-the-spot guidance”. This involves the leader traveling to various enterprises from factories, schools, breweries to weapons sites to provide advice to the workers.
Recently, Kim Jong-un has performed several of these on-the-spot guidance trips. One way that these trips are used is to emphasize North Korean government policy, such as byungjin, or parallel development of the military and the economy. This is why in between missile tests and visits to weapon factories, Kim Jong-un also takes time to provide guidance to places like factories producing consumer goods.
In this spirit, Kim Jong-un visited the Pyongyang Cosmetic Factory last month along with his wife, Ri Sol-Ju, and his younger sister sister Kim Yo-Jong. While touring the factory, Kim Jong-un reminded the workers of his father, Kim Jong-Il’s visit in 2003 and stated that his father would be proud of the work being done. Around this period, Kim Jong-un also visited a shoe factory. After the visits, the North Korean state newspaper, the Rodong Sinmun, wrote an op-ed that stated that the Korean Worker’s Party must promote “consumer industries & make better products,” because “[t]hese products deliver pleasure to our people.
These trips provide a valuable photo opportunity for Kim Jong-un to interact with the North Korean people and show mastery of all subjects. In the pictures, Kim Jong-un is seen smiling widely as he holds up shoes or watches machines manufacture cosmetic products. Wherever Kim goes he is followed by an entourage of top party officials with notepads jotting down the leader’s thoughts and guidance. There are also pictures of ordinary people clearly thrilled to be in Kim’s presence as he advises them or smiles with them. These photos allow Kim to present an image as a fatherly leader with clear authority and love for his people.
North Korean Defector Thae Yong-ho's Visit to Washington
On Nov 1, 2017, former North Korean diplomat and now defector Thae Yong-ho gave his testimony before the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee. Thae, along with his family, defected to South Korea in August 2016 while he was serving as deputy ambassador to the United Kingdom. To date, he is the most senior-level North Korean diplomat to have defected. Thae’s main recommendation to Congress was that the U.S. increase the flow of outside information to people in North Korea.
Thae explained that Kim Jong-un believes that a credible, long-range intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capability is the best way to get the U.S. to withdraw their military from South Korea. Accordingly, Kim Jong-un has invested in nuclear and missile development to a much greater extent than his grandfather and father.
The United States has responded to this increased level of threat by consolidating U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) in and around Camp Humphreys and deploying the Terminal High Altitude Air Defense (THAAD) missile system in South Korea. The Congressional Research Service recently released a report entitled “The North Korean Nuclear Challenge: Military Options and Issues for Congress,” which details the possible outcomes of various military strategies.
However, Thae argues that North Korea’s domestic front has also undergone extensive change given the emergence of free markets and illegal imports of South Korean films and TV shows. Given the historical role of outside information in influencing political thought in East Germany and the Soviet Union, Thae says that the U.S. can and should educate the North Korean people about life outside their borders. While enhanced defensive capabilities may provide protection, they can also harden North Korea’s resolve.
This Week in History: Pepero Day
On November 11, South Korea celebrates Pepero Day. Pepero is a popular chocolate-covered pretzel stick snack in South Korea. The day is similar to Valentine’s Day in which people exchange gifts of Pepero with their friends, parents, teachers, or love interests. The exact origin of this holiday is unknown. One myth is in 1983, two high school girls were sharing a box of Peperos and believed that “eating Pepero sticks on Nov. 11 at 11:11 A.M in exactly 11 seconds would make a person tall and slender.” Others argue it is because the snack resembles number one, hence the holiday date 11/11. The holiday is commercially successful, as sales reportedly skyrocket in the week before Pepero Day, even more than Valentine Day.