A group of South Koreans riled the government last Friday, cheering the North Korean football team in a match against Indonesia and shouting out to the North Korean players after the game, “We are sorry because of Park Geun-hye. Please don’t worry. Thank you. Not one person likes Park Geun-hye.”
The incident highlighted the tension between the current South Korean government and a small minority of citizens who would like to see continuation of the Sunshine Policy first advanced under the late president Kim Dae-jung, which called for sustained engagement with North Korea as a way of achieving peace and eventual unification of the peninsula.
As part of the policy of engagement, the previous Asian Games in South Korea — held in the city of Busan in 2002 — saw North Korea dispatch an “army of beauties” and citizens of the two countries chanting in unison, “We are one.”
But this time it appears North Korea is not welcome in the South, due to heightened tensions. The two countries, under Kim Jong Un and Park Geun-hye respectively, have not enjoyed an amicable relationship. Even though the North is an officially participating nation in the games with 273 players, South Korea has shown immense reluctance to host a squad of North Korean cheerleaders. The government in Seoul has also banned the display of the DPRK flag in the streets of Incheon, thus preventing all other nations’ flags from being hoisted for the sake of fairness. The state further warned South Korean citizens that they are forbidden to cheer for North Korea with a flag, as decreed by the National Security Law.
Since North Korea ended up not sending its own cheerleaders, the country mustered its own players from other sports to show support for its football team on September 26. But outside the DPRK seating area, there was an enclosure, similar to a cage, which contained South Koreans sporting unification flags and chanting in support of the North Korean team.
Radio Free Asia reported that the group originated during the 2002 Busan Asian Games. While some members first cheered North Korea twelve years ago, others are new to the group, made up of some 40 people in total. They believe that their cheerleading activity will contribute to improvement in inter-Korean relations.
At the game’s conclusion, the North Korean contingent left the stadium under heavy police escort. Once in the parkade, the North Koreans stood on the steps and waved DPRK flags as they waited for their bus. Pro-reconciliation South Koreans ran towards them, only to be stopped by a row of policemen. Clenching their unification flags, the South Koreans shouted slogans. “Nice to meet you”, “You did a great job”, and “We are one” were heard, interspersed with lyrics from the song “Our Wish Is Unification”. Then both sides started to sing “Arirang”, one of the few cultural products sanctioned in both Koreas.
When one bold South Korean yelled out the anti-Park Geun-hye message, the North Korean players responded with a cheer. Then the first bus departed.
Against a backdrop of South Koreans singing the North Korean song “Until We Meet Again” — made famous during the years of engagement under the Sunshine Policy — the remaining players entered the second bus.
As the vehicle drove off, one father told his son, “Wave goodbye to them”.