The two Korean states have seized the moment of the 2018 Winter Olympic Games to commence a renewed Sunshine Policy of openness between Pyongyang and Seoul that had been on ice since 2008. The open rapprochement has been welcomed universally except in the United States, which has not even bothered to comment on South Korean President Moon Jae-in accepting Kim Jong-un’s handwritten invitation to Pyongyang which was delivered to Moon by the DPRK Leader’s younger sister.
When it comes to a visual metaphor for Washington’s total disdain for an organic peace process between Pyongyang and Seoul, nothing is more singularly encapsulating than the fact that US Vice President Mike Pence refused to stand and applaud when the joint Korean team of Olympians marched before him holding a Unity Flag.
This comes from a nation that has been embroiled over a scandal involving Pence’s boss, Donald Trump’s criticism of some NFL players who have refused to stand for the American national anthem to protest against police brutality and racial discrimination in the United States. Trump intervened into the ‘take a knee scandal’ on multiple occasions, suggesting that protesting NFL players should lose their jobs and that until they do, ordinary Americans should boycott NFL games. It should be noted that during international NFL games in countries ranging from Mexico to the UK, NFL players universally stood during the playing of foreign national anthems. Doing the opposite is a universally recognised insult to one’s international host.
Pence himself famously walked out of an NFL game after some athletes refused to stand for the US anthem. And yet it was Pence and his wife who remained seated during the reception of Korean athletes during the Olympic Parade of Nations. Pence was also alone in refusing to shake the hands of DPRK officials, who were greeted warmly by all the others present, including Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzō Abe, in spite of his opposition to the DPRK’s security policy.
The Olympics provided a golden opportunity for the US to embrace an organic Korean peace process, but Pence as expected, rejected this opportunity. What went beyond that which could be predicted, was his total lack of manners, respect and diplomacy, something that ought to be second nature to the Vice President of any nation.
The US is keen to retard the progress of peace in East Asia, because this would mean a reduction in the market of expensive US weapons which have been sold at a frantic pace due to Washington’s scaremongering over the DPRK. The US also fears that economic cooperation on the Korean peninsula would mean the opening up of a new section of China’s One Belt–One Road project for international economic connectivity.
But as the old adage goes, “good manners don’t cost anything”. Even here, as the face of the US government at the Olympics, Pence proved himself to be a cheap man far above his station in life.