Tag Archive | "Olympics"

Could the PyeongChang Winter Games Help China to Signal a Softening Position on THAAD Sanctions?

By Troy Stangarone

Since South Korea decided to move forward with the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system in the aftermath of North Korea’s fourth nuclear test last year, China has made its opposition to the deployment clear and attempted to use targeted economic pressure to convince South Korea to not move forward with the deployment. However, with Seoul’s decision to move forward with the deployment of THAAD, Beijing’s policy has had little impact other than to weaken relations between South Korea and China. As Beijing looks for ways to adjust its policy, the 2018 Winter Olympics could provide an avenue for China to signal a softening of its position on sanctions.

China has not openly admitted to sanctioning South Korea over the deployment of THAAD, but the steps it has taken since the decision are clearly designed to send a signal to Seoul. These have been calculated to ensure that while specific industries feel concentrated economic difficulties to ensure that Beijing’s message is received, they are also designed to not interfere with the broader processing trade between South Korea and China that might have a more significant impact on jobs in China.

As a result, China has chosen symbolic targets that are either related to the deployment of THAAD, or that will touch areas of significance to South Korea such as Hallyu. The most direct target has been Lotte, which owned the golf course on which THAAD was deployed. It has seen nearly all of its stores closed for health and safety inspections and will now be pulling out of the Chinese market completely due to mounting loses. On the cultural side, early targets included K-Pop stars, as well as Korean TV and movie stars. Beijing then moved to ban the sale of group travel sales to South Korea, which as impacted South Korea’s tourism industry which was highly dependent upon Chinese tourists. While these are not all of the actions that China has taken or potentially taken related to THAAD, they each clearly demonstrated Beijing’s willingness to use economic leverage to try and sway Seoul’s decision on THAAD.

China is unlikely to change its position on THAAD, but with its economic pressure having little impact on South Korea’s defense policy it may be considering a change of course in its tactics. There are some indications that it may already be doing so with the recent renewal of a currency swap agreement between China and South Korea, as well as the first meeting between the two countries’ defense ministers in two years. However, there are economic reasons why China might have decided to renew the currency swap agreement and with tensions rising with North Korea renewing high level military contacts is prudent.

Whether these steps are the beginning of a change of course for China or driven by other factors, the upcoming 2018 Winter Games could provide an opportunity for Beijing to clearly signal a change of course if it has chosen to do so. At the moment, the official ticket broker in China is reported to have only requested 3,000 tickets for the PyeongChang Games. Loosening the reigns on travel and boosting Chinese participation at the games would be one way to signal that China is backing off of using economic pressure. Allowing more fans to attend is in China’s interest. The 2022 Winter Games will be held in Beijing and by tradition the mayor of the current host passes the Oslo flag to the mayor of the next host city, which also oversees the end of the Closing Ceremony. Does Beijing really want the Olympic stadium to be filled with only a token number of Chinese fans as the torch is metaphorically passed to the Beijing organizers?

There is also a tradition of world leaders attending either the Opening Ceremony or Closing Ceremony of the Olympic Games, perhaps most notably when Prime Minister Abe Shinzo made a surprise appearance at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games as part of Japan’s part of the Closing Ceremony in anticipation of the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. While it unlikely that Xi Jinping would make such a gesture, his attendance at either the Opening Ceremony or Closing Ceremony, along with positive remarks about South Korea at the Games, could also signal that China is prepared to shift course.

Since China has never formally said that it was using economic pressure to convince South Korea to reverse its decision on the deployment of THAAD, there will never be a clear statement that the sanctions on Korean firms has ended. However, if Beijing is looking to end a policy that has provided little benefit to China’s objectives, allowing more Chinese tourist to visit South Korea during the Olympics coupled with a positive visit to the Games could be a good way to do so.

Troy Stangarone is the Senior Director for Congressional Affairs at the Korea Economic Institute of America. The views expressed here are the author’s alone.

Photo from the Republic of Korea’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

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PyeongChang 2018 Olympics: Will North Korea Participate?

By Juni Kim

In a year marked by turbulent Korean relations, the Rio Games provided the backdrop for two modest moments of North-South reconciliation. South Korean gymnast Lee Eun-ju posed with her fellow North Korean competitor Hong Un-jong for a selfie, which quickly became viral. A few days later, Kim Song-guk, the North Korean bronze medalist in the men’s 50m pistol, took the medal stand with the South Korean gold medalist Jin Jong-oh. In a press conference following the event, Kim remarked that their accomplishment would mean more for Korea if the two nations were unified. As the Rio Games come to a close, the realities and politics between the two neighboring countries will unfortunately overshadow these encouraging moments. With the 2018 Winter Olympics to be held in the South Korean resort town of Pyeongchang, North Korea has demonstrated eagerness to attain a share of the South Korean limelight that comes with hosting the Olympic Games. However, North Korea’s diplomatic track record and recent provocations may jeopardize their participation in the 2018 Games.

When Seoul was selected to host the 1988 Summer Olympics, North Korea made a serious bid to co-host the Games despite never having officially submitted a hosting bid to the International Olympic Committee (IOC). In 1985, North Korea proposed hosting half of the Olympic events in its capital Pyeongyang under the new moniker “Korea Pyongyang Seoul Olympic Games.” The IOC ultimately rejected North Korea’s proposals, though the IOC did consider hosting several events in Pyeongyang including soccer, archery, table tennis, cycling, and women’s volleyball. The North Korean delegation’s insistence on hosting no less than half of the events led to the derailment of the negotiations. Despite a last minute appeal by South Korea to encourage the North to participate, North Korea boycotted the Games.

North Korea’s inflexible and botched attempt to co-host the 1988 Olympics did not dissuade them from more modest attempts to hold part of the Pyeongchang Games. During South Korea’s second bid to host the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, the North Korean national Olympic committee chair Chang Ung officially supported the bid only hours before the IOC selection committee’s decision. Chang also offered cooperation in fielding a united Korean team, similar to the unified Korean entrance in the opening ceremonies of the 2000 and 2004 Olympics.

After Pyeongchang finally succeeded in its third bid, North Korea began the development of a ski resort in Kangwon province, which borders South Korea. Chang Ung acknowledged that the resort’s purpose was partially meant to serve as a potentially Olympic site. North Korea attempted to showcase its newly built Masikryong ski resort this past January by inviting famed professional snowboarders to test the slopes. American snowboarders Dan “Danimals” Liedahl and Mike Ravelson were among the invited group, but North Korea’s fourth nuclear test just days before the trip prompted the organizers to scrap the plan.

Although historically unified, Gangwon (Kangwon) province is split and administered by both Korean nations.

Although historically unified, Gangwon (Kangwon) province is currently split and administered by both Korean nations.

Despite the construction of the resort, the organizing committee for the 2018 Winter Games rejected co-hosting possibilities repeatedly by citing the technical and logistical limitations in sharing the Games. In a news release in 2013, the committee asserted, “We should make sure technology and administrative works are in optimal condition in order to host an event- and athlete-oriented Olympic Games. Holding some of the events in the Masik resort, more than 300 kilometers away from Pyeongchang, cannot guarantee meeting this goal.” Choi Moon-soon, governor of Pyeongchang’s Gangwon province, is one notable exception to South Korean opposition for co-hosting the Games. He expressed support last year in possibly sharing snowboarding and slalom events with North Korea. Shortly after the governor made the comments, the organizing committee reemphasized their opposition to co-hosting possibilities. Kwak Young-jin, the committee’s vice president of planning and administration, firmly rebuked, “With the construction for all competition venues already under way, we have already made it crystal clear that there is no point of discussing co-hosting of the Olympics.”

With the door shut on co-hosting possibilities, North Korea’s participation in the 2018 Olympics remains unclear. In the week prior to the Rio Olympics, the North Korean Olympic committee stated its hope to participate in the Pyeongchang Games, though the South Korean Unification Ministry indicated that North Korea’s participation depends on the IOC. Inter-Korean relations suffered major setbacks this year including North Korea’s January nuclear test, multiple missile launches, and South Korea’s closing of the joint Kaesong Industrial Complex, one of the few remaining avenues of North-South cooperation.  North Korean participation in the Games may be put in further jeopardy if the regime continues to carry out provocations.

Even with IOC approval, it is possible that North Korea may choose to boycott the Games for political reasons. Much like the 1988 Olympics, North Korea may feel slighted by not being able to host any events and withdraw participation in protest. Such a withdrawal would only further isolate the regime, which has drawn heavy international condemnation including the recent round of UN sanctions.

Both North and South Korea should not underestimate the importance of the 2018 Games for inter-Korean relations. In his book Beyond the Final Score: The Politics of Sport in Asia, Victor Cha wrote, “Sport matters in world politics because it can create diplomatic breakthroughs (or breakdowns) in ways unanticipated by regular diplomacy. Just as a small white ping-pong ball promoted a thaw in relations between the United States and China, sport helped to end the Cold War in Asia and remains a unique instrument of diplomacy, building goodwill in a region of the world that lacks this commodity.”[1] Athletes like Lee Eun-ju and Kim Song-guk reflect this goodwill, and North Korea’s potential absence from the Pyeongchang Games would be a significant missed chance to improve North-South relations.

Juni Kim is the Program Manager and Executive Assistant at the Korea Economic Institute of America (KEI). The views expressed here are the author’s alone. 

Photo from Republic of Korea’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

[1] Cha, Victor D. Beyond the Final Score: The Politics of Sport in Asia. Columbia University Press, 2009.

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South Korean Athletes to Watch in Rio

By Caleb Cho and Hojun Song

In London in 2012, the South Korean team walked away with 28 medals, placing them fifth in the medal count. This year, they are expected to rake in a similar number of medals, with the Peterson Institute’s Marcus Noland projecting they will capture 30. Below, find our list of the Korean athletes to watch for in Rio.


Women’s Archery Team Category (Sunday, August 7)

Women’s Archery Individual Category (Friday, August 12)

Ki Bo-Bae, who won the gold medal in both the women’s individual and team category at the 2012 London Summer Olympics, is an expected Olympic Champion this year. She is currently the top ranked archer in the world. Her teammates in Rio, Choi Mi-Sun and Chang Hye-Jin, have no Olympic experience, so it’s up to Ki to lead South Korea’s women’s archery team to South Korea’s eighth consecutive gold medal.


Men’s Doubles (Friday, August 19)

The team of Lee Yong-dae and Yoo Yeon-seong are favorites for the gold medal in men’s doubles this year. Lee was a gold medalist in Mixed Doubles at the 2008 Olympics and bronze in 2012. The pair is going into this year’s competition ranked first in the world.


Men’s Bantam 56kg (Wednesday, August 10)

Ham Sangmyeong is aiming to get on the medal stand in Rio. He won gold in the Men’s 56 kg Boxing at the 2014 Incheon Asian Games, fourth in the 2015 AIBA Pro Boxing Championships, and is ranked third in the world by the organization.


Women’s Sabre Individual Category (Monday, August 8)

Kim Ji-Yeon, the 2012 Olympic Champion in the women’s sabre individual fencing, is expected to win the gold medal this year as well. Kim was the first South Korean woman to win an Olympic gold medal in fencing. Shin A-Lam, who controversially lost to a German fencer after a timekeeping error extended bout time in the semifinals of the women’s individual épée at the 2012 London Summer Olympics, is expected to add one more medal for South Korea. The South Korean fencing team won a total of two gold medals, one silver medal, and three bronze medals in the 2012 London Summer Olympics, leaving them in good position for Rio.


Men’s Vault and Floor Categories (Saturday, August 6)

Kim Han-sol placed fifth at the 2014 International Gymnastics Federation World Championships, and then sixth and eighth in vault and floor respectively in 2015. In Rio, he is expected to contend for bronze in those two categories.


Men’s 90kg (Wednesday, August 10)

Ranked second in the world, Gwak Dong-han won several medals in regional and world championship games in 2015, and was named “2015 Best Player” by the Korea Judo Association. He is expected to contend for gold in Rio.


Women’s 57kg (Thursday, August 18)

Women’s 67kg (Friday, August 19)

Although taekwondo is originally a Korean martial art, South Korea only won a single gold medal and a silver medal at the 2012 London Summer Olympics. This year two female taekwondo practitioners will participate in the Olympics. Kim So-Hui is a two-time World Taekwondo Champion. It will be interesting to see whether she can defeat the Chinese champion, Wu Jingyu, in the Women’s 57kg at this year’s Olympics. Oh Hye-Ri is also expected to add a medal in the Women’s 67kg. In the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics, all four Korean practitioners won gold medals.

Track and Field

Men’s Long Jump (Friday, August 12)

Kim Deok-hyeon is the top ranked Korean long jumper, and is currently ranked 11th in the world. He is hoping to capture a medal in Rio but faces tough competition.

Rhythmic Gymnastics

Women’s individual all-around (Friday, August 19)

Son Yeon-Jae, who ranked the fifth at the 2012 London Summer Olympics, aims to win a medal. She is the 2014 Asian Games All-around Champion and three-time (2016, 2015, 2013) Asian Championship All-around Champion. Because the Russian rhythmic gymnasts are allowed to participate in the Rio Olympics despite Russia’s doping scandal, Son Yeon-Jae will face tough competition and is expected to win the bronze medal.


Women’s Individual (Saturday, August 20)

Golf returns to the Olympics after a 112-year absence. Thanks to South Korea’s recent dominance in golf, four top-class woman golfers, Chun In-Gee, Park In-Bee, Yang Hee-Young, and Kim Sei-Young, are expected to be in contention for medals. South Korea is the only country sending four woman golfers to the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics, all of whom are in the top 10 of the 2016 Olympic Golf Final Rankings.


Women’s 25m Pistol (Tuesday, August 9)

South Korea won three gold medals and two silver medals in shooting events at the 2012 London Summer Olympics. Kim Jang-mi, the Women’s 25 Meter Pistol Champion, is expected to achieve good results at the Rio Olympics as well.

Men’s 10m air pistol (Saturday, August 6)

Men’s 50m pistol (Wednesday, August 10)

Jin Jong-oh is far and away the favorite to cinch two gold medals in Rio. Holding World records in 50m pistol (2013), 10m air pistol (2015); Jin won the gold medal in the 50m pistol in 2008 and gold in the 10m air pistol and 50m pistol at the 2012 Olympic Games.

Table Tennis

Women’s Singles (Saturday, August 6)

Table Tennis is one of sports dominated by China. Since the 1999 Seoul Olympics, China has won 24 gold medals out of 28. However, it is remarkable that three of the remaining gold medals were captured by South Korea. This year Jeon Jihee, Suh Hyo-Won, and Yang Ha-Eun will do their best to stop China’s domination in this event.

Men’s Team (Friday, August 12)

Much like the women, the South Korean men’s table tennis team will have to contend with the dominant Chinese team to grab a medal in Rio. Joo Saehyuk has consistently ranked as one of the 40 best table tennis players in the world, and will attempt to lead his team to back-to-back silver medals.


Men’s Greco-Roman 75kg (Sunday, August 14)

Kim Hyeon-woo won gold in Men’s 66 kg wrestling in London, got a Grand Slam in Wrestling-Asia Championships in 2013, and finished first in the 2013 World Championships and at the 2014 Asian Games. He is a favorite to cinch the gold in Rio.

Caleb Cho and Hojun Song are interns with the Korea Economic Institute of America. Both are masters candidates at Tufts University. The views expressed here are the authors alone.

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