On January 17th, in a show of decreasing tensions, North and South Korea announced that they will march together under one unified North and South Korean flag in the 2018 Winter Olympics. It’s a huge step for the two nations, which are currently separated by a demilitarized zone (DMZ). But is the unified North and South Korean flag new? And what does it represent?
The flag, officially named the Korean Unification Flag, depicts a blue Korean peninsula on a white background. North and South Korea have marched under the flag before. At the 1991 Table Tennis World Championships, the flag was first used when the two nations competed as one team. And North Korea and South Korea have marched together under the flag at several Olympics, including the 2000 Olympics, the 2004 Olympics, and the 2006 Winter Olympics. All in all, they have used the flag nine times.
But, although they have participated together in two previous sporting events, the 2018 Winter Olympics is the first Olympics that North Korea and South Korea have competed in as a joint team.
The idea of a unified Korea is a controversial one. An armed conflict between the north and south in the 1950s ended in a ceasefire rather than a declaration of peace, so the two countries are technically still at war. They have been divided along the DMZ since 1953. But according to the Huffington Post, a 2014 poll of North Koreans and a 2015 poll of South Koreans show that there is at least some support for reunification in both countries, even if it’s not likely to happen any time soon.
Sporting events have been used by the two countries as a sort of symbolic truce before. During the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia Chang Ung, a member of the International Olympic Committee from North Korea spoke to the Los Angeles Times about the symbolism of the Korean Unification Flag.
The unified North and South Korean flag and the decision to compete together in the 2018 Winter Olympics won’t completely erase decades of hostility between the two countries. But for these nations, working as a team is a sign of progress. We’re excited for the PyeongChang Olympics, and we wish the unified Korean team the best of luck.