North Korea is a huge presence at the Winter Olympics — here are 7 unprecedented reasons why

North Korea's participation in the Winter Games follows a year of increased nuclear tension between North Korea and the rest of the world.

North Korea’s participation in the Winter Games follows a year of increased nuclear tension between North Korea and the rest of the world.
Jorge Silva/Reuters

  • All eyes are on the relationship between North and South Korea at the winter Olympics.
  • North Korea boycotted the Olympics last time it was held in South Korea in 1988.
  • Despite renewed threats of nuclear aggression from the North, the Olympics is offering the chance at diplomacy on the Korean Peninsula.

South Korea’s Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Games kicked off last week last week and in addition to the usual accompanying fanfare, there has been political intrigue surrounding North Korea.

On the Korean Peninsula, where the North and South have been divided by a bitter war for decades, the games have placed the potential for reconciliation between the North and South Korean governments at the forefront of conversations.

North Korea, one of the most secretive places in the world, regularly competes in the Summer Olympic Games. But its participation in the Winter Games is spottier. It hasn’t competed in the Winter Games in eight years, and it boycotted and terrorized the last Olympics held in South Korea in 1988. North Korea’s peaceful participation in the Pyeongchang Games has given hope of a thawed relationship between the two Koreas.

Its participation also follows a year of increased nuclear tension between North Korea and the rest of the world. Following missile tests that the North Korean government said could reach the US mainland, President Donald Trump threatened the North with “fire and fury like the world has never seen.”

Here are seven unprecedented reasons why the world is so much paying attention to North Korea at the Olympics.

The South Korean government allowed North Korean athletes to access The Games by passing through the Demilitarized Zone.


The DMZ was created in 1951 for peace talks during the Korean War, and is a small area of just a little over a mile on either side of the border. While the conflict stopped after an armistice was signed in 1953, a peace treaty was never signed, which means the two countries are technically still at war.

The DMZ is normally cut off to all outside traffic.

North and South Koreans marched under a single unification flag.

Matthias Hangst/Getty Images

For the first time in eight years, North Koreans participated in the winter Olympics. It’s not the first time Korean athletes from North and South Korea marched under the unified flag. The countries did so at the 2000 and 2004 summer Olympics.

Kim Yo Jong, the sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, made a historic trip to South Korea for the Opening Ceremony. It was the first visit from a member of North Korea’s ruling family since the 1950s.

Vice President Mike Pence shared a box with Kim Yo Jong, even though he didn’t have to.

It was reportedly a political statement to show solidarity with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Pence didn’t shake hands with Kim Yo Jong and didn’t stand when the unified Korean team entered the stadium.

Athletes from North and South Korea joined together to create a unified Korean women’s ice-hockey team.

Woohae Cho/Getty Images

It was a symbolic gesture and one that hasn’t been made since 1991 when a unified team played in an international table-tennis championship.

The US and South Korea agreed to suspend joint military drills during the Olympic Games.

US and South Korean military drills act as a major irritant in the relationship between Pyongyang and Seoul.

Vice President Pence said the US would be willing to talk to North Korea even without the precondition of Pyongyang first agreeing to denuclearize.

The move signals a change in strategy from the Trump Administration which previously said it would engage only if the North placed its nuclear weapons on the negotiating table.