Kim Jong-un had sent out a message of peace to herald in 2018 by extending an olive branch to South Korea. He appeared to be serious as he reactivated the hotline that had been dead for two years and indicated that players of the North would participate in the 2018 Winter Olympics in the South. Subsequently, joint meetings were held between officials of both sides to draw up detailed plans but, suddenly, things have soured up.

The Independent UK reports that the two Koreas had decided to have a joint cultural performance before the start of the Games which has now been canceled.

North Korea has accused the media of the South of encouraging unwanted public sentiments to grow against the North.

The decision is regrettable

The move by Kim Jong-un in January had led the world to believe that North Korea was keen to come out of isolation and normalize relations with South Korea. It would have meant less tension in the Korean peninsula, and the 2018 Winter Olympics would act as the bonding agent. Possibilities of a direct confrontation with nuclear weapons would have receded.

However, the decision of Pyongyang to cancel the joint performance, scheduled to be held in the North Korean territory of Mount Kumgang, will act as a dampener. The reunification teams had drawn up plans of holding another concert in South Korea by a North Korean orchestra.

It also was planning to send South Korean athletes to train at a North Korean ski resort. According to Seoul’s Unification Ministry, the two sides had also agreed to march under a single flag at the opening ceremony in Pyeongchang. These have now been put on hold, and the argument of the North is that the media in Seoul is not behaving in a responsible manner.

It seems the women’s ice hockey team of South Korea was unhappy at the decision to field a joint team, and this was taken up by the local media. Obviously, President Moon Jae-in of South Korea would be disappointed on these developments. Ever since he took over the reins, he had wanted to reunify the two Koreas, and if Pyongyang sticks to its stand, the reunification process will take a beating.

The signals are confusing

The world had taken the peace overtures of Kim Jong-un at face value and had heaved a sigh of relief presuming that fears of a nuclear engagement had gone. However, the sudden decision of North Korea to stay away from a mutually agreed decision will put a brake on the initiative. The joint cultural performance with South Korea on the occasion of the 2018 Winter Olympics would have helped the cause.