South Korea is preparing to host its second Olympics after 30 years for the first time. For the tense situation of North Korea’s nuclear issue, interaction between the South and the North has drawn much attention. Unexpectedly, the Koreas are cooperating in unheard-of ways, including their first joint Olympic team in women’s ice hockey. This week, North Korean Winter Olympic games national team successfully arrived South Korea, and they were treated courteously by South Korean officials, which was unimaginable before.
Unlike this peace cooperation –or just superficially peace–, in 1988, the last time South Korea hosted the Olympics, North Korea not only refused to participate in but blew up a South Korean airliner 858 on which all the passengers and crew member, total 115 persons, died 10 months before the Games. The North Korean agent admitted that North Korean Defense Minister Kim Jong Il planned the attack in an attempt to stop the hosting of the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games. However, South Korean at that time still expressed hope that the two Koreas could one day become a single nation again. Even after the tragic attack, South Korean still hold the faith that they desire a united nation-state.
Although the relations between the Koreas seem like tending to normalization for the upcoming PyeongChang Winter Olympics, South Korean’s thoughts, especially younger ones’, are quite different from previous ideas. They are far less interested in reconciliation, to say nothing of reunification.
According to experts and recent surveys, a profound shift in attitude in South Korea, in which the reuniting the peninsula and the Korean people was held as a sacrosanct goal for long time. Nowadays, younger South Koreans in particular are more likely to see the unification idea of reintegrating their prosperous capital democracy with the impoverished and totalitarian North as unrealistic and undesirable. They are also worried that the South has to help rebuild the North in infrastructure, education and economy, which might create a burden for the South after reunification.
Compared with this costly and complicated mission of reunifying with the North, young Koreans are more concerned about pressing domestic issues like unemployment, and if they can get back the era of economic prosperity and live as well as their parents did. According to polls in 2017, there are 71.2 percent of twenties South Koreans oppose reunifying with the North, and fewer respond to the old appeals to common ethnic heritage. Across the population, support has dropped to 57.8 percent from 69.3 percent just four years ago.
Polling experts say the South Korean men often get more hawkish after finishing their mandatory military service. Half of them consider North Korea an outright enemy instead of a partner to build a common nation together. “To young South Koreans, North Korea is someone they do not want anything to do with,” said Kim Ji-yoon, a researcher at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul.
This attitude toward North Korea was apparent this month, when the Koreas agreed to field a joint team in Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, and to march together in the opening ceremony on February 9. Different from South Korean’s sentiment towards this kind of things in the past, 72 percent of South Korean adult were not enthusiastic about this joint team; furthermore, more than 54,000 people signed a petition opposing it.
If such pushback from conservatives has been expected, who have long been suspicious of efforts to engage the North, yet younger South Koreans have tended to be politically progressive and supportive of His Mr. Moon whose parents were refugees from South Hamgyeong Province (currently in North Korea) who fled their native city of Hungnam during the Hungnam evacuation. Analysts said that years of increasingly provocative nuclear and missile tests have darkened South Korean perceptions of the North and its leader Kim Joug-un. His brutal and weird actions such as executions of his own uncle make South Korean’s faith in reunification falter.
Many South Korean’s first feeling are reliving when they knew that North Korea is going to take part in the Olympics, because it is less likely to conduct a nuclear weapons test while its own athletes are competing in Pyeongchang. There are also some elder South Korean lamented the new attitude towards North Korea. Nonetheless, the South Korea is now bathed in a skeptical mood about Mr. Kim’s sudden peace offensive, and most of South Koreans believe the reunification would only be nothing but chaotic.