SEOUL — The divided Koreas reached their biggest moment of unity at the Winter Olympics by facing a common historical adversary: Japan.
Even though a unified Korean team of ice hockey players lost 4-1 to Japan on Wednesday, the symbolism of a divided nation taking on its former colonial ruler at the Olympics was palpable. Days earlier, South Korean President Moon Jae-in had snubbed Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for advocating military drills against North Korea.
“That one goal means so much,” said Park Geun-taek, 42, a middle-school teacher who brought all his 31 students to the nearly packed stadium. “It’s not only their very first time scoring a goal during the Olympics, but it’s a goal that two Koreas made together against Japan. I see that this symbolic game can improve relations with the North.”
Unified Korea’s Kim Heewon (R) celebrates with Randi Griffin after Griffin scored a goal in the women’s preliminary round ice hockey match between Unified Korea and Japan during the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympic Games at the Kwandong Hockey Centre in Gangneung, South Korea on February 14, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / Brendan SmialowskiBRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images
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Unified Korea’s Randi Griffin, left, celebrates with Kim Heewon after Griffin scored a goal in the women’s game against Japan on Feb. 14, 2018.
Many people in both Koreas harbour mutual resentment toward Japan for colonizing their peninsula for 35 years until its defeat in the Second World War. Japan’s rule led to the exploitation of natural resources and human labour for Japan’s expansion into the rest of Asia. Earlier this week, Olympic broadcaster NBC apologized and removed a commentator after he said on air during the opening ceremony that every Korean looked up to Japan as an example of their economic transformation.
The women’s hockey game came as South Korea and Japan continue to quarrel over compensation for Korean “comfort women,” a euphemism describing women forced into sex slavery by Japan’s imperial army in the early 20th century.
In a summit held before the opening ceremony last week, Abe said the U.S.-South Korean military drills should proceed as planned and Moon said it was embarrassing for the Japanese premier to mention a “matter of sovereignty.” Moon had earlier asked the U.S. to postpone the annual exercises to encourage North Korea’s …read more