North Korea’s state media often provides hints as to the true intentions behind the country’s participation in the Pyeongchang Olympics. Analysts in South Korea have been pouring over such information, meticulously analyzing the tone of articles and opinion pieces for clues. Following Kim Jong Un’s New Year’s address, there was a considerable lack of further information on the North’s participation in the upcoming Olympics. After staying quiet on the matter for nearly 20 days, the country’s state-run newspaper Rodong Sinmun ran a story on January 18. Even coverage of the January 9 high-level North-South talks and working-level talks in the subsequent days did not make it to print in the North during that time. The January 18 edition finally broke the streak with a short story boxed in the middle of page 4 simply titled ‘North-South working-level talks held.’
However, there appear to be clues in the article as to Kim Jong Un’s intentions for the Pyeongchang Olympics. First of all, the writer took pains to avoid mentioning the fact that the Olympics were being hosted by South Korea. They were also reluctant to use the name “Pyeongchang,” which would be a very obvious hint towards this fact. Instead of calling it the “Pyeongchang Olympics,” it was referred to as “Our 23rd Winter Olympic Games.” Further mentions of the Olympics were made in the following days, with an article on January 21 calling South Korean newspapers Chosun Ilbo and Joongang Ilbo ‘trash only worthy of a garbage bin,’ and another the following day calling the South’s conservative opposition Liberty Korea Party a group of ‘anti-unification zealots.’ These articles continued to omit explicit mentions of Pyeongchang or South Korea as the host of the Olympics. The name “Pyeongchang” is apparently taboo in North Korea.
Pyeongchang Olympics to be used for a North Korean ideological offensive
Since Kim Jong Un’s New Year’s address, the country has planned mass rallies, mandatory study sessions, and other expressions of support for the address across the country. Every day since January 3, Rodong Sinmun has carried a full page of articles and editorials with a reference to the address in the headlines. These include: ‘We are deeply studying the Dear Marshal’s New Year’s address’ (January 3), “We look up to Dear Leader Comrade Kim Jong Un’s New Year’s address and powerfully go towards a new victory of the revolution” (January 4), ‘We highly revere the militant tasks presented in this year’s New Year’s address and we are powerfully pushing ahead with train repairs” (January 21), and, “We highly revere the militant tasks presented in this year’s New Year’s address and we are putting our strength into electricity production” (January 22). These titles reference the address while boasting of the country’s self-reliance and its “Mallima Army.” Conspicuously absent, however, has been any mention of the part of the address where Kim Jong Un spoke about the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics as a way of improving North-South relations.
Indeed, none of the lectures or events across the country organized in the wake of the address mentioned the Olympics either. The official text from the New Year’s address was written as follows: “As for the Winter Olympic Games to be held soon in south Korea (sic), it will serve as a good occasion for demonstrating our nation’s prestige and we earnestly wish the Olympic Games a success. From this point of view we are willing to dispatch our delegation and adopt other necessary measures; with regard to this matter, the authorities of the north and the south may meet together soon. Since we are compatriots of the same blood as south Koreans (sic), it is natural for us to share their pleasure over the auspicious event and help them.”
Curiously, there are numerous references in the North’s media to ‘North-South relations Improvement’ slogans, which carry Olympics-related implications. Some of these slogans include: “Independent Unification Army,” “Independent Unification Thriving Business,” “All-out Revolutionary Attack,” “Fulfilling the Socialist Revolution,” and “Establishing a Strong Socialist Nation.” These provide insight into how the regime may be considering the Olympics as the event draws closer. One of the North’s stated goals in improving relations with the South is to be “fully prepared to exact revolutionary revenge on the United States,” as one of their slogans proclaims. This is also becoming a major focus in Kim Jong Un’s cult-of-personality improvement efforts. The day after the New Year’s address, the Rodong Sinmun published an article entitled, “Dear Marshal Kim Jong Un, Sun of the Nation and Great Leader of the Unification of the Fatherland kindly presents…” The article is targeted towards members of the so-called Anti-Imperialist National Democratic Front based in Seoul (although this group is actually based in Pyongyang). The article praises Kim Jong Un, saying, “The guardian of the world who makes the imperialist forces tremble at the mere sound of his name, the absolutely powerful Marshal Kim Jong Un holds the fate and future of the entire peoples of North and South Korea in his hands, as he is forever the savior of all people and the greatest hero of all time.”
The Pyeongchang Olympics therefore represent an opportunity for Kim Jong Un. After US anxiety over the North’s nuclear weapons program, the US and South Korea cooperated closely to install the THAAD anti-missile system, and the North’s Olympics strategy may be aimed at undermining this cooperation. Internally in North Korea as well, the moves work towards the deification of Kim and may even lead to a breakthrough in the country’s economic problems.
North hoping to promote “Wonsan Kalma Shore Tourist Zone” to international tourists
The January 18 Rodong Sinmun article, the first to mention the Olympics, included the following revelation: “Working-level talks have addressed the logistics of hosting at the Masik Pass Ski Resort and Mount Kumgang joint North-South ski training and cultural events sometime between the end of January and the beginning of February.” Kim Jong Un has been continuously focusing on this geographic region of the North ever since his New Year’s address, particularly the “Wonsan Kalma Shore Tourist Zone,” which has been featured heavily in state media.
A January 4 article said, “Combining the might of the army and the people, we are constructing the Wonsan Kalma Shore Tourist Zone within the shortest period of time.” Then there was a January 7 article entitled, “Rail transportation sector aiding transport of items needed for Wonsan Kalma Shore Tourist Zone,’ which stated, “As of January 6, we have created innovations for guaranteeing (completion of) at least 70% of the items and effort required for the construction of the Wonsan Kalma Shore Tourist Zone.” On January 10, one day after the high-level talks at Panmunjom, in an article entitled, “Much cement for the Wonsan Kalma Shore Tourist Zone coming from the Sangwon Cement Combined Company,” the author wrote, “In an effort to provide the full amount of cement needed for construction of the Wonsan Kalma Shore Tourist Zone within a short time from now, workers are setting new records and a new standard through their fiery fervor for manufacturing.”
On January 19, a day after further working-level talks, in an article entitled, “A new Chosun civilization at the endless, beautiful beach,” it is apparent that the regime sees the Olympics as a way to connect to development of the Wonsan Kalma project. Excerpts from the article include: “In the southeast of Kangwon Province, at the endless and beautiful beaches of the Kalma Coast of Wonsan, the beauty and scenery of the area is becoming known,” and, “White sand beaches stretch for miles, there are bright blossomed flowers, green pine trees, clear water all year, all under one sky and reminiscent of a painting. And this is all not only for our people, but for foreigners to find as well.” This suggests that foreign tourists are a target of the project. It is also a clear sign of the North’s intention to stymie the effects of international sanctions.
Going a step further, the article adds, “In the near future, people coming here from around the world will open a new civilization in Chosun,” revealing an intention to circumvent the nuclear issue through the tourist zone project. The following passages are further proof of this, and show just how important Kim Jong Un considers the project: “There will be multiple levels of enjoyment at the Wonsan Kalma Shore Tourist Zone, including luxurious hotels and independent businesses along the coast, which will make Chosun and this magnificent tourist spot the envy of the world,” and, “Ryomyong Street was a heroic achievement of the construction battle troops, and they are again briskly lending their hand to this construction. The vigor, fearlessness, and high morale of the workers will make the Wonsan Kalma Shore Tourist Zone bigger and even greater in quality than the Mirae (future) Scientists Street.”
In this way, the regime has shown how it plans to use the Olympics to flex the country’s nuclear strength, put the US on the defensive, and emerge from international isolation – and it aims for the Wonsan tourist project to be the first step towards a new source of foreign currency from foreign tourists.
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