When North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un declared on New Year's Eve that he was considering sending athletes to the upcoming winter Olympic games in South Korea, his words were welcomed and seen as a sign that relations between the North and South could improve. Now he's exceeded initial expectations for North Korea (DPRK)'s participation: On Wednesday, he and South Korean President Moon Jae-in said that at the Olympics, North Korea and South Korea would march together and send a unified team of ice hockey athletes to compete.
Ice hockey is one of the most popular events of the Winter Olympics. This year, the preliminary round for women's ice hockey will take place on Saturday, Feb. 10, one day after the opening ceremony. The delegation is due to arrive in South Korea to begin training together by Jan. 25.
"If South and North Korea form one team and compete in the games, that will be an everlasting historic event, which I think will move our people and people around the world," President Moon said on Wednesday.
These agreements still need to be confirmed by the International Olympic Committee, but assuming that approval process goes smoothly, here's what to expect about this delegation and what else you need to know.
This Is Making History
North and South Korea have been separated since the end of the Second World War in 1945. The two countries went to war in 1950, and even though the conflict basically concluded in 1953, there's never been a formal peace treaty. A majority of South Koreans still want the peninsula to reunify. Relations between the North and South have been icy in recent years as the North has accelerated the development of its nuclear program, so this delegation is notable because it signals at least a slight improvement in their relationship. Although the countries have competed together in other international sporting competitions, this will be the first time that they've joined together for the Olympics.
The last and only other time that South Korea has hosted the Olympics was the 1988 games in Seoul, when the events were preceded by a devastating terrorist attack. Two North Koreans planted a bomb in a plane and killed everyone on board, including 113 South Koreans. The attack was seen as a reaction from the DPRK for being denied participation in the games. Many think that this new delegation will help prevent another act of terrorism from disrupting the Olympics because North Korea won't want to endanger its own citizens.
They Don't Want Any Athletes Left Out
South Korea already has a full roster of 23 women on its ice hockey team and it doesn't want to force any of those players to drop out. It's asking the International Olympic Committee to allow the team to expand so that additional women from North Korea can be added without any disruption.
There's A Joint Flag For The Opening Ceremony March
All of the athletes from North and South Korea — not just the ones on the hockey team — will march together under one flag for the traditional athlete's parade during the opening ceremony. This "unification flag" will likely show the entire peninsula in blue over a white background. It's been used many times in the past; the last time the Koreas marched under it together in an Olympics opening ceremony was during the 2006 games in Turin, Italy.
But Some Countries Aren't Overly Excited
While all of this is good news, it doesn't guarantee that the warming between the North and South will continue. Some have even said that the DPRK's willingness to create this delegation could be an attempt to divert attention away from its nuclear weapon program and to fool the international community into thinking that recent tough sanctions are no longer necessary.
Taro Kono, Japan's Foreign Minister, warned of being caught up in Kim Jong-Un's "charm offensive." He argued that "it is not the time to ease pressure, or to reward North Korea. The fact that North Korea is engaging in dialogue could be interpreted as proof that the sanctions are working."
Look out for the delegation during the Olympics opening ceremony on Friday, Feb. 9.