After Vice-President Mike Pence refused to stand for the united Korean Olympic delegation, many Americans reacted with embarrassment and anger.
During the opening ceremonies on February 9th, North and South Korea united for an athletic delegation, marching together for the first time since 2007. For many, it was a welcome symbol of peace during a tense time. But, although he stood during the American athletes’ delegation, Vice-President Pence remained seated during the Korean delegation, not clapping. In a tweet after the celebration, spokespeople said on Twitter that Pence was willing to “stand and cheer for U.S. athletes,” but not to recognize “the most oppressive regime on earth.”
The slight appears deliberate, in keeping with the vice-president’s other slights against the North Korean delegation. Although Pence was seated in a box with the North Korean political delegation, which included Kim Jong Un’s sister Kim Yo Jong and North Korea’s ceremonial head of state, 90-year-old Kim Yong-nam, he didn’t greet any of them. And, according to the BBC, Pence passed on an Olympic dinner where he would have been sharing a table with Kim Yong-nam.
Pence also spent the week before the ceremonies urging people not to fall for what he calls North Korea’s “charm offensive” during the Olympics. Before leaving for Korea, Pence told The Washington Post that he wanted to “ensure that North Korea does not use the powerful imagery and backdrop of the Olympics to paper over an appalling record of human rights and a pattern of developing weapons and conducting the kind of missile launches that are threatening our nation and threatening neighbors across the region.”
But Pence’s hardline stance wasn’t echoed by other political delegates at the games. South Korean President Moon Jae-in (Bottom Left) has long supported America’s “maximum pressure” campaign of sanctions against North Korea, but he greeted his political counterparts warmly and invited them to the presidential Blue House during their three-day visit to the south. Some political commentators believe that Moon is trying to use the Olympic meeting to encourage reunification between the two Koreas. Even Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, a long-time critic of the North Korean regime, shook hands with his counterparts.
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