Last week saw new hopes for peace emerge on the Korean peninsula as South Korean President Moon Jae-in visited Pyongyang to commence his 3rd summit with Kim Jong-un. The meeting saw a new series of declarations emerge, including commitments to eventually reopen the Kaesong Industrial Complex and the Mt. Kumgang Resort. However, most spectacular amongst the proposals was the aspiration to create a joint bid from both Koreas to host the Olympics in 2032. Such a measure would be unprecedented in history, but is it realistic or feasible?
For the Olympics to go ahead in Pyongyang, there would have to be massive changes. Political, economic and organisational ones to say the least. One wonders how it is possible for the country’s limited infrastructure to accommodate millions of international visitors. The country would a completely new transport infrastructure, new roads, new railways and a vastly expanded number of international flight routes. It would need enhanced energy infrastructure, internet infrastructure and a completely new healthcare infrastructure to accommodate the visitors as well. To prepare the country for such a feat would cost billions, likely founded by the South Korean taxpayer if peace does get anywhere.
Then, there’s the question of politics and tour guides. How can the current system where groups are accompanied by guides possibly be replicated on a scale to incorporate millions of visitors at once? The DPRK is only use to having about 1000 or so international visitors a day into the country (most whom are Chinese), high peak events such as the Pyongyang Marathon do not even come close to replicating the pull of let’s say, the Olympics. North Korea will not appreciate having millions of rowdy westerners freely roaming the city, likely perceiving them to be disorderly, chaotic and getting into trouble. This aspect of organisation poses inevitably wider questions about the country’s politics, such a bid under the status quo arrangement will inevitably attract high levels of international criticism and for the moralistic westerners, a sense of repulse.
Then of course, there’s the question of the U.S, who refuse to lift any international sanctions until they achieve what they describe as the “final, fully verified denuclearisation of North Korea”. Such sanctions relief would be needed in order to facilitate the changes needed to make such a competition possible. However, for all the peace overtures between the involved countries, denuclearisation remains a pipe dream with enormous obstacles setting the two sides apart. North Korea does not trust the United States, whom demand a unilateral capitulation in exchange for nothing. 14 years may be a long time for things to change, but a lot of that context may lever on the events of today.
All in all, a joint Olympics bid is a wonderful thing to aspire to, a symbol of peace, hope and unity on the Korean peninsula. However, there are many real challenges which stand in its way. North Korea itself must evolve in ways which can accommodate it, ways which will not be cheap or easy. Such a bid rests on the assumption the nuclear issue can be finally resolved for one and for all, as well as the necessity for North Korea to induce some sort of openness to its system that can win greater acceptance in the international community and not be boycotted by the west. So much to do, so little time! We truly hope for a peaceful, prosperous and better future between both Koreas together, but we have to be honest about the challenges ideas like this will unavoidably face. Here’s hoping though!