We are only a few weeks away from the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea. While the air is full of the usual excitement that greets an Olympic Games, not everything has been going as smoothly as organizers would like.
For one, Russia has been banned from participating this time around due to their history of using performance-enhancing drugs. But the biggest issue has been the long-standing tension between South Korea and its next-door neighbour, North Korea.
Then came surprising news this Wednesday; after several days of talks, the Two Koreas announced that they would participate at the Olympics as one nation. The world would be presented with a single Korean team under a unified flag for the first time in nearly 70 years.
To understand why this is such a big deal — as well as why many are skeptical of the news — let's look at the history of Korea.
The hermit kingdom
North Korea was formed after the Korean War (1950–1953) split Korea into two. The southern half, supported by the United States, became a democratic country, while the northern half, supported by Russia and China, embraced communism.
North Korea was led by the dictator Kim Il-sung. Kim created a society that revolved around his rule and elevated him to godlike status. He issued strong laws and restrictions that controlled all aspects of life for North Koreans. Very few people were allowed in or out of the country. The country was so isolated from the rest of the world, it became known as "the hermit kingdom."
Facing off against the world
Today, Kim's grandson, Kim Jong-un, rules North Korea in a style much like his father and grandfather. The United States has been an enemy since the days of the Korean War. Disagreements over the decades between the two countries have been common. But the conflict turned especially nasty in 2017.
Kim Jong-un spent the year in a war of words with U.S. President Donald Trump. Despite efforts from the United Nations and global diplomats to calm the situation, Kim Jong-un has refused to back down.
The dream lives on
South Korea having the Winter Games was always going to annoy North Korea. Back when Seoul, South Korea hosted the 1988 Summer Olympics, it was very public that North Korea was displeased and offended. Many are seeing the gesture of a unified Korean team in PyeongChang as a way to avoid these problems.
Still many people are understandably skeptical of the move. The dream of a unified Korea is something that really appeals to all Koreans. They don't like having their country divided.
Whether or not this gesture leads to a better relationship between North Korea and the rest of the world remains to be seen. But we're interested to see what an even briefly reunited Korea looks like.