The Korean peninsula is no stranger to subjugation. Since its founding in 676 AD, Korea had experienced constant military and political intervention from its neighbouring nations including Japan, China, and Mongolia, otherwise was forced into vassalage as a functioning puppet kingdom. Though Korea lacked its independence, it remained a united country. In 1945, however, when the victorious powers of the USA and USSR vied for the Korean land, it was carved in two. American acquired the South, Russia the North, and Korea lost its unity.
Since then, the two parts of the peninsula have taken wildly different paths. North Korea is run by one of the most unpleasant dictatorships in the world, the Kim family. Kim Il-Sung’s birthday is celebrated yearly as a national holiday entitled ‘The Day of the Sun’. Kim Jong-Il, it is taught, was born under a quadruple rainbow. The current ruler, Kim Jong-Un, apparently learned how to drive a car at the age of three. A refusal to believe these things will get the average North Korean at best imprisoned, and at worst killed.
South Korea meanwhile is now a wealthy democracy, with an overall high quality of life with all basic rights guaranteed. The country is far from perfect, with government corruption and political difficulties, but any sane person would rather live in South Korea than the North.
Thanks to the two Koreas decision to participate as a single team in the South Korean Winter Olympics this year, 2018, there has been talk of a full reunification, and at first glance it seems easy. Follow the path Germany laid out in 1989, after the Berlin Wall fell, and have the South help the North to catch up into a new Korea. As with the divided Germany, however, far greater powers are at play. It is not coincidental that the North and South are the quintessence of their two founding countries, the USSR and the USA. The two countries are, and essentially always have been, puppets. The Cold War may be over, but Asia still remains divided between China and the USA. To maintain the balance, there must be a communist country and a democratic country in the area. Even if the Kim dynasty could somehow be convinced to step down, China would simply move in to replace them. It is global politics, and while it is essentially an extremely large scale pissing contest, it is crucial for international reputation. As such, Korea will not unify until one of the two great powers in America and China step back.
The only question that remains is why each side agreed to unify for these Winter Olympics. After all, if they are realistically not going to unify, why work together for a sport competition? It is a hard question to answer, but when considering the decision to participate together at these Olympics, it must be remembered that Korea did not choose to be divided. Both Koreas, no matter how different their politics, still desire unification; they just want it in different ways. That is why they are participating together, even if genuine unification remains a near-impossible dream.