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IAS16310.1177/2233865913499332International Area Studies ReviewJung

International Area Studies Review

Sport as a catalyst for cooperation:

16(3) 307­–324
© The Author(s) 2013
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DOI: 10.1177/2233865913499332
two Koreas succeeds in some ias.sagepub.com

cases but not in others

Giwoong Jung
Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, Republic of Korea

There is a wide belief that sport has a positive utility in the diplomatic arena and can be used as a
catalyst for cooperation. The very instrumental effectiveness of sport gave a birth to the idea that
sport can be used effectively to promote contact between or among hostile countries. This idea
was adopted by the governments of the two Koreas and a sport agenda was used as a pretext for
initiating official dialogues between the two countries. Throughout the history of South–North
dialogues, we can find some cases of success and other cases of failure. Some successful dialogues
brought concrete results of cooperation, while other unsuccessful dialogues ended only as pre-
steps that did not develop into cooperation or negotiation. Thus our attention should go to two
directions. One is “what is the main force which drove the two Koreas to open a sport dialogue?”
The other is to find out “why sport dialogues between the two Koreas succeed in some cases
but not others”. This article aims to review the role of sport as an instrument or a catalyst for
cooperation. The author divides the whole period of dialogues into several phases and examines
the role of sport. After reviewing the success and failure of dialogues, the author argues for
sport to be used as a tool for dialogue, the strategic choice of the actors being the prerequisite.
The author emphasizes that strategic choices made by the governments of the two Koreas play
an important role when casting sport as an instrument to develop relations, which is explained
with the framework of simple 2 × 2 games. In line with this, this article explores the strategic
thoughts of the two Koreas by reviewing the political intentions, situations of the time, contextual
connectivity and strategic thinkings of two Koreas.

South–North Korean dialogue, sport diplomacy, sport dialogue, sport politics, strategic choice

Corresponding author:
Giwoong Jung, Center for International Area Studies, Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, 107, Imun-ro, Dongdaemun-
gu, Seoul, 130-791, Republic of Korea.
Email: iarjung@hufs.ac.kr/geraldjung@hotmail.com

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308 International Area Studies Review 16(3)

The diplomatic field is a far different place than it was decades ago. Many meaningful changes
have occurred, especially the end of Cold War, with much influence at both international and
domestic levels. The possible repertoire of diplomatic tools has grown, with an emphasis on soft
power, and sport is among them, with increased capability as a politico-diplomatic tool.
Sport has always been political. As Hoberman pointed out “Sport is a latently political issue in
any society, since the cultural themes which inhere in a sport culture are potentially ideological in
a political sense” (Hoberman, 1984: 20). Sport has also been regarded as a very effective method
of social integration, forming national identity and improving the national image abroad (Houlihan,
2007: 215–217). Modern sport has been constructed by the demands of the state and capital, which
in turn intensifies its role both as a method of political image manipulation domestically and as a
tool of diplomacy externally. The very instrumental effectiveness of sport gave a birth to the idea
that it can be used effectively in cases of promoting cooperation or contacts between or among
hostile countries.
The most celebrated example of this use of sport is the “ping-pong diplomacy” between the USA
and China in the early 1970s, when the USA sent a table tennis team to China as a way of thawing the
relations between the two countries. Despite many examples of successful sports diplomacy, some
argue that sport is peripheral to international relations and provides, at best, weak symbolism (Kanin,
1980). However, the idea of using sport as a diplomatic tool was widely accepted and the govern-
ments of the two Koreas were among the supporters. Between the two Koreas, a sport agenda was
used as a pretext for initiating official dialogues during the era of confrontation.
Dialogues between the two Koreas have been practically closed for a long time, since the armi-
stice agreement was signed on Panmunjom on 27 July 1953, and the division of the Korean penin-
sula has become solidified. Official dialogues between the two Koreas began when South Korean
Red Cross proposed a dialogue with the North Korean Red Cross on 12 August 1971. Since the
first dialogue was opened on 20 August, 1971, there have been 606 occasions of dialogues between
the South and North.1 Among them, the number of dialogues on socio-cultural aspects is only 54,
which is around 9% of the total. However, the sport dialogue has drawn much attention, as it has
many advantages with relatively low costs.
Even before the official dialogue began, the South–North sport dialogue had been open in
1950s and 1960s, and at every moment of crisis situations between the two Koreas, socio-cultural
exchanges, including sport dialogue, were taken into consideration as a way of turning around the
situation. In South–North relations, there has been an expectation that sport events can be used as
a tool for dialogues or improving the relationship. This is partly because a sport agenda places less
of a burden on the actors when compared with political, economic and military ones. Further, in
the sport arena, there is no pending issue that must be solved. Furthermore, sport can have the
effect of giving feelings of unification to the people of a divided land and can have a great ripple
effect. The usefulness of sport in South–North relations lies in its combination of high visibility
and relatively low cost.
Many scholars have given attention to this and tried to review the underlying logic and mean-
ing of South–North sport dialogues. However, while focusing on the positive role of sport and
overly emphasizing the utility of sport, existing studies on the role of sport in South–North rela-
tionship have mainly focused on the instrumental utility and symbolism of sport. Therefore, the
hidden political intentions and dynamics, situation of the time and contextual meanings have been
treated as a little marginal (Hwang 2007; Kim, 2000a; Lee, 1992; Park, 1997; Seong, 2004; Yoo,

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Jung 309

Throughout the history of South–North sport dialogues, we can find some cases of success and
other cases of failure. Some successful dialogues produced concrete results of cooperation between
the two Koreas, while other unsuccessful dialogues ended only as pre-steps that did not develop
into cooperation or negotiation . Thus our attention should go to two directions. One is “what is the
main force which drove the two Koreas to open a sport dialogue?” The other is to find out “why
sport dialogues between the two Koreas succeed in some cases but not others”. Success or failure
depends on whether a dialogue remains as a pre-step or leads to improved relations or concrete
results of cooperation. If a dialogue remains as a pre-step and brings out no further steps, it can be
regarded as a failure. On the contrary, if a dialogue leads to other dialogues for cooperation or
improved relations, that must be counted successful.
The author argues for sport to be used as a tool for dialogue, the strategic choice of the actors
being the prerequisite, which can be analyzed by exploring the political intentions of the leaders,
the situation of the time, the contextual connectivity and the strategic thinking of two Korea. In this
way, the use of sport as a tool for achieving strategic goals will be highlighted.
The author divides the whole period of dialogues into several phases and analyzes each phase
by adopting simple 2 × 2 game matrixes. As Snidal (1985: 25) argues, “the conception of nations-
states as interdependent, goal-seeking actors lies at the heart of strategic game analysis”. The two
Koreas are interdependent goal-seeking actors, who treat sport as an attractive diplomatic resource.
The ideas of prospects theory (Kahneman and Tversky, 1979, 1981) are also used to support the
author’s arguments. Last but not least, what should be mentioned here is that the author presents a
possible analytical framework for reviewing South–North Korea dialogues, not modeling them.

When does negotiation start?

Negotiation as a voluntary inter-related action
Negotiation is usually defined as a process in which two or more entities come together to discuss
common and conflicting interests in order to reach an agreement of mutual benefit (Churchman,
1993; Ikle, 1964; Solomon and Quinney, 2010; Wall, 1985). That is to say, negotiation is an inter-
related action of more than two actors sharing interdependent purposes. The actors are assumed to
have conflicting or cooperative interests and the purpose of the negotiation is to make mutual inter-
ests by decreasing conflicting interest and increasing cooperative interest at the same time (Lewicki
et al., 2007: 6–8). We can say that negotiation is a voluntary inter-related action for mutual benefits.
The negotiation process is usually regarded as a linear one. It is usually assumed to start with
pre-negotiation, move to official negotiation, concluding and signing on an agreement (United
States Institute of Peace, 2002: 8–10). However, in some cases negotiation is not always a linear
process or target oriented, but rather a process of building relationship, becoming familiar to each
other or even an ideological propaganda.

The strategic choice structure of South–North dialogues

Considering the concept of negotiation mentioned above, the South–North Korea negotiations
reveal very distinctive features. For the last 60 years, since the end of the Korean War, the two
Koreas have held many official and unofficial dialogues. When we review them, we find that
South–North dialogues reveal a different pattern from other international negotiations or dialogues.
In most cases, for the two Koreas, having contact itself was regarded as the purpose of a negotia-
tion. Kim (1995) and Song (2002) used the term “pseudo negotiation” to point out this peculiar

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310 International Area Studies Review 16(3)

characteristic of South–North dialogues.2 They argue that dialogues between the two Koreas are
like “negotiation for negotiation’s sake”. In other cases, South–North dialogues have been used as
a tool of confrontation for arguing the superiority of a particular political system. This reveals a
form of negotiation which is very different from the common types of international negotiation.
Successful negotiation or dialogue between the two Koreas is rarely found, as they always
try to take advantage of dialogue as a tool for propaganda or to show their own system’s
supremacy. Thus our question should be “Why some dialogues were successful?”3 Reviewed
from the viewpoint of rational choice theory, most cases of South–North dialogues can be taken
as examples of a “deadlock” situation where neither actor has any intention of having talks with
its counterpart.
Cooperation under anarchy assumes conflicts between nations and their possible cooperation,
but not all conflicts lead to the creation of mutual benefits or cooperation through negotiation
(Axelrod and Keohane, 1985; Keohane 1984). Oye (1985: 7) argues that, “When harmony prevails
cooperation is unnecessary to the realization of mutual interests. Where deadlock exists the term
‘cooperation’ is devoid of meaning and conflict is inevitable.” This implies that, if a case is to be
analyzed as a negotiation, it should be decided first whether the case can be categorized as a nego-
tiation, not as harmony or deadlock.
The analysis on South–North dialogues should be approached in this way, as most cases of
South–North dialogues can be categorized as “deadlock” or “harmony”. As a consequence, recog-
nition of mutual interests through negotiation is impossible. Against this backdrop, the analysis of
South–North dialogues should be started by deciding whether they belong to the realm of “inter-
related games”, as it is impossible to develop arguments with the framework of negotiation analy-
sis when the case is a deadlock or harmony situation. Therefore, the interaction between
South–North should be reviewed by judging first whether a case belongs to the realm of interac-
tion. If so, analysis goes on; if not, analysis stops.

South–North sport dialogues—from armistice to the end of the

Cold War
South–North sport dialogues can be variously categorized, but this article categorizes the whole
period into two distinct sections: the Cold War period and the post-Cold War period. The Cold War
period will be divided into two phases. The first is from the armistice agreement to the collapse of
Park Chung-hee regime, during which South and North Korea competed to gain recognition from
other countries and to show off their system’s supremacy. The second is from 1980 to 1987, when
the New Cold War started and South Korea declared that it had won the system competition through
economic development and the successful hosting of the Olympic Games, while North Korea tried
to hinder the South from successfully hosting the Olympic Games. Throughout the second phase,
South Korea utilized sport as a tool for acquiring political recognition and legitimacy domestically
and externally, which in turn made sport combine with politics.

Getting recognition and competition: 1953–1979

Recognition 1953–1971: South Korea’s deadlock vs North Korea’s harmony.  The obtaining recog-
nition and competition period can be divided into two: the first half and the second half. The
first half ends in 1971, when official South–North dialogue started. During the first half, there
were no official dialogues between the two Koreas, while the North tried to hold a meeting with
South Korea to obtain International Olympic Committee (IOC) membership.

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In 1950s, South and North Korea never had direct talks, but the North tried to make contact with
the South via the IOC. North Korea’s efforts were intended to obtain IOC membership. South
Korea’s National Olympic Committee (Korean Olympic Committee: KOC) obtained recognition
from IOC at its general meeting held on 20 June 1947 at Stockholm, but the North did not join the
IOC at that time.
It is generally accepted that the nation state is a kind of historical construction through dynamic
interaction between domestic politics and international politics. The nation state exists with the
assumption of sovereignty, which consists of territory, population, authority and recognition
(Beirsteker and Weber, 1996). For South and North Korea, obtaining recognition from other coun-
tries was one of the prime goals of national interest, as they competed for the legitimacy of being
the orthodox government on the Korean Peninsula. Against this backdrop, throughout the period,
every year, the two Koreas competed to obtain more votes for recognition at the general assembly
of the United Nations. It can be expected that North Korea wanted to obtain international recogni-
tion by acquiring IOC membership, which in turn could give the North a motif for proposing a
sport dialogue with South Korea.
In 1956, North Korea first mentioned South–North sport exchanges at the Third Workers’
Party’s General Meeting. In December 1957, it proposed to make a unified team of the two Koreas
for the 17th Rome Olympic Games. However, this was no more than a propaganda, as the propos-
als of sport exchanges disappeared as soon as North Korea obtained IOC membership at 54th IOC
General Meeting, held in Sofia, Bulgaria, 1957. As they had fulfilled their first aim of joining the
IOC, there was no need for a dialogue with the South.
When considering the strategic choice structure of South–North in this phase, South Korea was in
the situation of deadlock, as it had no interest in cooperating with North Korea. South Korea did not
say “yes” to North Korea’s proposals of dialogues. North Korea was in a kind of forced harmony situ-
ation, as it had no option but to have talks with the South in order to obtain IOC membership. That is
to say, North Korea had to choose to cooperate regardless of South Korea’s response and South
Korea’s best choice was to always refuse the dialogue. For South Korea, having no talks with North
Korea would not produce any disadvantages. On the contrary, having talks with North Korea might
give the North the chance to show its system’s supremacy by pointing out South Korea’s economic
inferiority. Furthermore, cooperation with North Korea would help the North to obtain international
recognition, which would not help to maintain the anti-communist ambience of domestic politics for
regime stability. As a result of this calculation, both North Korea and South Korea were unilaterally
shouting at each other, regardless of the responses from the other, which means that South–North
dialogues were practically impossible. When one always chooses to cooperate and the other always
selects defection, cooperation through interaction between the actors is impossible. Despite many
proposals from North Korea, the South and the North did not make any direct contact. However, after
North Korea joined the IOC, they had to meet to face each other to fulfill the IOC requirements.
From 1958 to 1970, after the North joined the IOC, the South and North had to hold sport dia-
logues. In 1957, North Korea obtained permission from the IOC, but the IOC limited the boundary
of North Korea’s Olympic Committee (Olympic Committee of the Democratic People’s Republic
of Korea: PRK) to inside its own territory. The IOC also made it clear that rights for external activi-
ties like participating in the Olympic Games belonged to the KOC. This means that the PRK had
no option but to appeal to the KOC when they wanted to participate in the Olympic Games, and
North Korea had to propose to hold South–North sport dialogues (Ministry of Unification, 1987:
As the IOC advised to form a unified team of the two Koreas, the South and North held the first
South–North sport dialogue at the IOC headquarters office, located in Rosanne, Switzerland, on 24

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312 International Area Studies Review 16(3)

January, 1963, under IOC arbitration (KOC, 1992: 6-7). The second sport dialogue was held in
Hong Kong, from 17 May to 1 June in the same year (Chung, 1998: 64). The game structure of the
two Koreas in this phase was the same as that of the previous one. The South had no intention of
contacting the North as it was afraid of its economic situation being compared with the North and
did not like to accept North Korea’s leadership in the relations between them, while the North had
no reason to avoid the dialogues with the South, as it had to talk with the South to join the Olympic
Games and wanted to show off its economic superiority. It was just a pro forma dialogue and the
two Koreas made a token gesture toward supplying a unified team. As making mutual benefits
through dialogues between the two Koreas was not practically possible, the dialogue of this phase
was not successful.

Competition 1971–1979: deadlock.  The official South–North dialogue started on 12 August, 1971,
when the Republic of Korea National Red Cross proposed to the Red Cross of North Korea to hold
the South–North Red Cross Conference. Following that, the two Koreas four times held official
socio-cultural conferences, until 1979, when President Park Chung-hee was assassinated and the
Yushin (the Revitalizing Reforms) regime was terminated.
During this period, sport exchanges between the two Koreas included various announcements
and proposals. In 1972, the presidents of the KOC and PRK announced a South–North Joint
Statement for the Munich Olympic Games, and in 1976, the president of the Korea Football
Association proposed holding good-will matches between the two Koreas. In 1978, South Korea
made an announcement that it would invite North Korea to the ISSF World Shooting Championship
to be held in Seoul. North Korea proposed forming a unified team for the 35th World Table Tennis
Championship and Moscow Olympic Games in 1979. Despite many proposals and conferences,
there was no concrete result.
From 1971 to 1979, the South and North held humanitarian talks 85 times, but despite such
lively contacts, they could not reach any fruitful results. It is evaluated that the proposals made
during the period were not for making mutual benefits but were just political spin.
South–North dialogues were especially active right after the announcement of the joint com-
munique of 4 July 1972 between the South and the North of Korea. However, the enthusiasm for
dialogue was waning rapidly, as the two Koreas entered into another phase of dictatorship through
Yushin in the South and the idolization of Kim Il-sung in the North.
Sport dialogues also remained at the level of political propaganda for showing off system
supremacy. The two Koreas always shouted unilaterally without expecting any response from the
other, and tried to dominate the scene as another way of defeating the other.
Reviewed with the strategic choice structure, the two Koreas faced a deadlock situation as
they had no mutual interests through cooperation. The best choice for both the South and North
was to always refuse to hold a meeting, as they expected that having a dialogue by choosing to
cooperate would not assist ino maintaining the regime under the Cold War system. That is to
say, the unilateral defection structure, where the actor always chooses to defect regardless of
the other’s choice, will not bring any motif for cooperation, which leads to a deadlock

Political battle 1980–1987: deadlock continued

With President Chun Doo-hwan’s inauguration, a new military dictatorship appeared in the
southern part of the Korean Peninsula, which was the start of the 5th Republic. After President
Park Chung-hee was assassinated on 26 October 1979, the new military group called Hanahoe

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Jung 313

(the Group of One) obtained power through the 12·12 coup of 1979 and the massacre in May
Gwangju of 1980, which severely damaged the legitimacy of the regime. The main actors of
the new military group were seriously worried about the fragile domestic support and recogni-
tion abroad.
The new military group tried to consolidate its political situation with two ways. Domestically,
they constructed an oppressive control mechanism and manipulated political struggles. Externally,
they intensified the relationship with the USA while emphasizing the importance of security.
Summit diplomacy and sport events were used as tools for securing regime stability through divert-
ing people’s attention to outside and non-political activities. Sport events were used as an effective
method of pursuing domestic and external purposes at the same time. Chun hwan’s regime was
even called the “Event Republic” or “Olympic Republic”, as it spent much energy and resources
holding international conferences and mega sport events. Throughout the Korean history, neither
before nor after this period, has sport worked as an important motif of national policies as it did
during the period, and this was a very rare case even with the global perspective (Jung, 2010:
In North Korea, Kim Il-sung achieved permanent power by building a dictatorship through
idolization in 1970s, but in terms of system rivalry, it lost the game with South Korea. North
Korea’s economic situation was much better than that of South Korea until the 1960s, but South
Korea rapidly built their economy through a state-dominated economic system and industrializa-
tion, which in turn gave a feeling of threat to the North. South Korea’s hosting of the Olympic
Games was perceived as a serious threat to North Korea, as it perceived it as proof of system
supremacy of the South. North Korea tried to hinder the Olympic Games by carrying out a terrorist
attack on Aung San cemetery, Burma, where North Korean agents set off a bomb that killed 17
visiting South Korean officials, including four cabinet ministers, in 1983. North Korean agents also
bombed the airliner KAL 858 in 1987, which intensified the politico-military tension between the
two Koreas.
South–North dialogues of this period were gloomy. From 1980 to 1987, South and North
held dialogues 31 times, among which seven concerned socio-cultural exchanges, a relatively
large portion compared with other periods. However, South–North sport dialogues remained
at the level of political propaganda, both for the South and for the North. Sport dialogue was
another political battle field for the two Koreas. The most distinguished South–North sport
exchange was the conference for forming unified teams for 1984 LA Olympic Games and
1988 Seoul Olympic Games and the dialogue for co-hosting the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games.
During this period, the South and North opened sport dialogues several times, but they ended
in vain, as both Koreas focused on finding excuses to blame others for being not able to pursue
mutual interests.
Existing studies on South–North negotiations concluded that dialogues between the two Koreas
are not genuine negotiations for reaching an agreement but a kind of pseudo negotiation focusing
on marginal factors. Park (2007: 265) argues that North Korea reveals a warrior-like attitude
toward negotiation, continuously showing an antagonistic and offensive posture. With this view-
point, for North Korea, negotiation is not a chance for cooperation for maximizing mutual interests
but an “extension of warfare”.
Studies on South–North sport dialogues also argue that North Korea put more emphasis on
achieving the political pretext and successful propaganda than reaching an agreement. North Korea
took advantage of the sport dialogues as a way of maintaining and consolidating its regime, and of
splitting South Korea’s public opinion as to whether the two Koreas should form a unified team or
co-host the Olympic Games (Kim, 2000a, 2004; Lee, 2004).

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314 International Area Studies Review 16(3)

North Korea’s revolution strategy of using sport as a political means in the relations with
South Korea has been pointed out as the fundamental reason for the failure of South–North
dialogues. However, we have witnessed that in history sport has often worked politically despite
its claiming to stand for apoliticalness or depoliticization.4 Furthermore, not only North Korea
but also South Korea used sport as a tool for political activities and sport dialogue as a stage for
slandering the North and political propaganda. The sport policies of the 5th Republic, including
the host of the Seoul Olympic Games, were pursued with specific political intentions and
South–North sport dialogues were used to oppress the North by the South Korea government.
When they held sport conferences for forming a unified team for the LA Olympic Games, South
Korea raised the agenda that North Korea should apologize for their terrorist attack in Aung
San. This can be taken as a typical example of South Korea’s using sport as an effective tool for
attacking the North. Lee (2002: 179) argued that South Korea’s sport activities have been over-
ridden by political forces.
Regardless of the failure of the dialogue for forming the unified team for LA Olympic
Games, North Korea had a pending agenda to solve—the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games. North
Korea sabotaged the Seoul Olympiad in two directions. One was to hinder athletes and staff
from participating in the Games by producing an atmosphere of terror and the other was to
induce an anti-Olympic movement within South Korean people. By having negotiations with
the South and advocating co-hosting the Games, North Korea tried to split the unified attitude
of South Korean people toward the Seoul Olympic Games. The Aung San terrorist attack in
1983 and the explosion of KAL 858 in 1987 are evidence of North Korea’s efforts to produce
an atmosphere of terror. North Korea also demanded that the Olympics should be co-hosted and
that the venue for the Games should be changed. Kim Yu-soon, the president of PRK, sent a
letter to the president of the IOC, Juan Antonio Samaranch, and asked that the 1988 Olympic
venue be changed. The IOC suggested that the South and North hold meetings and they met
four times from October 1985 to June 1986 at Lausanne, Switzerland, which ended with no
concrete results. During the meetings, North Korea demanded at first that they host half of the
Games, then reduced the demand to hosting six events and finally declared that it would not
participate in the Games on 11 January, 1988.
The strategic choice of co-hosting the Olympic Games can be interpreted as having the prefer-
ential order of DD > DC > CD > CC (South Korea) and DD > DC > CD > CC (North Korea), where
C means accepting the co-hosting of the Games and D means refusing it.
For South Korea, accepting the co-hosting was never a desirable choice. As the purpose of host-
ing the Games is to show off the legitimacy of the regime and system supremacy of South Korea,
refusing the co-hosting (D) is South Korea’s rational choice. If the North chooses to refuse (DD),
then South Korea blames the North for failing to co-host the game and shifts the responsibility.
Even when the North accepts the co-hosting (DC), South Korea prefers to defect, as it will harvest
the whole fruit of hosting the Olympic Games despite the possible blame for the failure of co-
hosting. In the case of accepting the co-hosting (C) owing to circumstantial pressure, the South
wants the North to defect (CD) rather than to accept (CC). In the case of CD, South Korea can use
the pretext that co-hosting was not successful because of North Korea’s refusal despite South
Korea’s acceptance of co-hosting. CC is the worst outcome, as the South has to share the fruit of
hosting the Olympic Games with the North and South Korea also loses its dominant position in
terms of a cause.
With North Korea’s standpoint, refusing the co-hosting (D) is the rational choice. As North
Korea was financially fragile and much poorer than South Korea, it became clear that the North
had lost the game of system competition with the South. As the North did not have any room for

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Jung 315

Table 1.  Game tree for co-hosting the Seoul Olympic Games (SK).

SK’s choice C (accept) D (refuse)

NK’s choice C D C D

Result CC Co-hosting CD Foundered DC Foundered DD Foundered

Interpretation Advantages: getting a Advantages: Advantages: Advantages: getting
of results from cause of co-hosting getting a cause of getting the chance the dominant
SK’s standpoint Disadvantages: having to co-hosting/able of winning the position by
  share a stake of hosting to declare having game of system pointing out NK’s
the Olympics with NK/ won the game of supremacy/cutting responsibility/
possible disturbance system supremacy the possible getting the chance
owing to the contact Disadvantages: political upheaval of winning the
with NK/failing to be losing the cause that could be game of system
located on the upper of hosting the caused by contact supremacy/cutting
side in terms of causes Olympics by with NK the possible
itself/increased Disadvantages: political upheaval
possibility of losing the causes that could be
political upheaval caused by the
contact with NK 
Preferential 4th 3rd 2nd 1st
NK, North Korea; SK, South Korea.

co-hosting the Olympic Games, South Korea’s refusal (DD) was the best result for them. North
Korea could shift the responsibility for the co-hosting failing to the South. Even if the South
accepted the co-hosting (DC), the North had no option but to refuse it, which would help maintain
its regime stability and free it from the possible economic burden. In the case of accepting the co-
hosting (C), owing to the circumstances, North Korea preferred South Korea’s refusal (CD) to its
acceptance (CC). Like South Korea’s preferential order, CD would give a cause to North Korea,
but in the case of CC, it may have brought to North Korea the loss of regime stability, influx of an
atmosphere of freedom from outside and financial burden. Tables 1 and 2 show the game tree of
the two Koreas for co-hosting the Seoul Olympic Games.
In fact, the game structure continued throughout the period without major changes. Both South
and North did not truly want to cooperate, and they preferred the mode of confrontation owing to
the domestic and international circumstances. If we go one step further, it can be said that both
Koreas wanted the other to defect, as they benefitted from the other’s strategies. Both South and
North needed their opponent to remain stable, and utterly failed negotiation is a very cheap replace-
ment for losing initiative or full war. That is to say, the two Koreas remained in deadlock and it was
difficult to expect a true negotiation between them.
During the period, sport shoed a much more political manipulability than at any other period
and sport dialogues meant no more than a chance for political propaganda for both Koreas. South
Korea was more obsessed with using sport as a political tool than North Korea, as the South used
it as a motif of political decision-making, tried to acquire regime legitimacy domestically and
internationally through sport events, and even used sport as a tool for ruling the people. When it
comes to the proposals of sport dialogue to North Korea, this was done based on the expectation
that North Korea would not accept the proposals made by South Korea.

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316 International Area Studies Review 16(3)

Table 2.  Game tree for co-hosting the Seoul Olympic Games (NK).

NK’s choice C (accept) D (refuse)

SK’s choice C D C D

Result CC CD DC DD
Interpretation of Advantages: Advantages: getting a Advantages: Advantages: achieving
results from NK’s getting a cause of cause of accepting the maintaining the superiority in
standpoint accepting the co- co-hosting regime stability/ terms of causes by
  hosting Disadvantages: cutting the pointing out SK’s
Disadvantages: (under Cold War contact with responsibility for
financial burden/ confrontation) outside/no the failure of co-
contact with increase in domestic financial burden hosting/maintaining
outside/damage to political instability/ Disadvantages: the regime stability/
regime stability/ losing hegemony of losing the cause cutting the contact
increase in the leader owing to with outside/no
instability/possible the failure of declared financial burden
damage to Kim Il- policies
sung’s leadership
Preferential order 4th 3rd 2nd 1st

South–North sport dialogues—from the end of the Cold War

to the present
With the collapse of the Cold War, the structural setting and the international environment changed
markedly, which greatly influenced the relations between the South and North. This period can be
divided into two sections. One is from 1988 to 1997, during which South Korea successfully held
the Olympic Games. For this period, North Korea actively tried to contact the South as a way of
escaping the passive posture and South Korea responded fervently, which can be titled the period
of “adventurous approaches and positive response”. The other is from 1998 to 2007, when the
South and North had a harmonious relationship under the Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun gov-
ernments. After that, the relationship between the two Koreas remained in a kind of deadlock situ-
ation, which will not be discussed in this article.

Adventurous approaches and positive response, 1988–1997

On 21 December 1988, Kim Yu-soon, the president of the PRK sent a letter to the president of the
KOC, Kim Jong-ha, asking to hold a sport dialogue to form a unified team for the 11th Asian
Games, to be held in Beijing in September 1990 and the South Korean government accepted the
offer (KOC, 1992: 55). The South–North sport dialogue was open from 9 March 1989 to 7 February
1990 with nine regular sessions and six working-level talks. At the fifth and sixth meetings, the two
Koreas almost reached an agreement with 10 points, including the title of the unified team, flag,
anthem, how to choose the athletes, drills, staff and expenses. However, the talks collapsed at the
ninth general meeting, as the two Koreas revealed different opinions on the formality of the agree-
ment and assurance of performance on the agreed agenda.
The two Koreas failed to form a unified team for the LA Olympic Games, Seoul Olympic
Games and Beijing Asian Games. Despite these three failures, both Koreas had chances to hold

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Jung 317

dialogues and learned the way to mediate with each other. South and North jointly cheered their
athletes during the Beijing Asian Games, which attracted worldwide attention. This in turn helped
to build a conciliatory mood between the two Koreas. On 23 September 1990, ministers from the
Ministry of Sport of both Koreas (Chung Dong-seong of South Korea and Kim Yu-soon of North
Korea) met at a hotel in Beijing and held a conference. They agreed upon holding a South–North
Unification Football Game and having sport conferences on forming a unified team for the
Barcelona Olympic Games and other important international matches. They also agreed upon
holding a South–North Unification Football Goodwill Game, the revised version of Seoul–
Pyongyang Football Match, which contributed to encouraging the spirit of the Korean people dur-
ing the Japanese colonial era (Chung, 1998: 181–184).
To fulfill the agreement, South and North held the game in Pyongyang (from 9 to 13 October
1990) first and then in Seoul (from 21 to 25 October 1990). During this period, Minister Chung and
Minister Kim held three meetings (the first and second in Pyongyang, and the third in Seoul) and
declared a joint agreement on 25 October 1990, announcing that South and North would open
South–North sport dialogues again and form a unified team (KOC, 1992: 94–95).
Following this, meetings were held four times at Panmunjeom from 29 November 1990 to 12
February 1991, discussing the participation in international games and South–North sport
exchanges. As a result of this conference, South and North formed a unified table tennis team for
the first time after the division and sent them under the name “Team Korea” to the 41st World Table
Tennis Championship held in Japan in April 1991. South and North also sent the unified football
team to the 6th World Junior Soccer Championships held in Portugal in June 1991. This was a
historic event for people of both countries, but the happiness did not last long. When South Korea
proposed holding the fifth South–North sport meeting for forming a unified team for Barcelona
Olympic Games, North Korea unilaterally canceled the meeting just 5 days before the due day,
blaming South Korea for the defection of a North Korean Judo athlete, Lee Chang-soo (Ministry
of Unification, 2002: 62).
Seoul Olympics was a symbolic event that showed that the South had won the game of system
competition with the North. However, from right after the Olympic Games until 1991, North
Korea actively responded to the sport exchanges with the South. From 1971 to the present, South
and North have held 54 socio-cultural meetings, and during the three years mentioned above, the
two Koreas held meetings 23 times. What made North Korea be so active in contacting with the
The frame effect and relative gain sensitivity can be suggested to explain the behavior of
North Korea for this period. When it comes to the frame effect, prospect theory argues that the
displeasure associated with the loss is greater than the pleasure associated with the same amount
of gains. Therefore, people respond differently, depending on the frame on which they stand.
When they perceive that they are in a gain frame, they tend to be risk averse; when they are in
loss frame, they tend to be risk taking. The perception of frame can be influenced by relative gain
sensitivity. Grieco (1988: 498) argues that “the fundamental goal of states in any relationship is
to prevent others from achieving advances in their relative capabilities” and “the first concern of
states is not to maximize power but to maintain their position in the system” (Waltz, 1979: 126).
In this vein, states have more concern on “who gets more” (relative gain) than on “what I can
get” (absolute gain). The higher the relative gain sensitivity, the greater the threat to the security
of states. The sensitivity changes depending on several conditions: the more powerful a state is,
the less sensitive to relative gain; the sensitivity is highest for security issues and lower for eco-
nomic, social and cultural issues; sensitivity increases in relations with hostile nations and
decreases in relations with friendly countries. With these criteria, we can say that North Korea

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318 International Area Studies Review 16(3)

Table 3.  Game tree for South–North sports dialogues during the period of 1988–1997 (SK).

SK’s choice C (accept) D (refuse)

NK’s choice C D C D

Result CC Exchanges CD Foundered DC Foundered DD Foundered

Interpretation Advantages: SK’s Advantages: getting Advantages: Advantages:
of results from getting the initiative the cause and showing off the establishing a more
SK’s standpoint in South–North initiative SK’s initiative/ lively interest of
  relations/getting Disadvantages: getting political people in improving
the cause/possible losing the initiative/ support from the South–North
changes of NK’s backfire from the conservatives by relationship/
domestic situation conservatives owing showing the firm preventing domestic
through contact with to the policy failure/ attitude toward political instability
SK/improving South– possible domestic NK Disadvantages:
North relationships political instability Disadvantages: possible domestic
Disadvantages: losing the cause/ political instability/
backfire from the losing the chance losing the chance of
conservatives of improving improving South–
South–North North relationship
Preferential 1st 4th 2nd 3rd

had a relatively high sensitivity in South–North sport exchanges. North Korea was much less
developed in economic terms than South Korea and both Koreas were still competing for system
supremacy. Furthermore, North Korea felt threatened by the collapse of Cold War. In this situa-
tion, for North Korea to have sport exchanges with the South must have been a very sensitive
issue. Although sport belongs to the socio-cultural issue, North Korea had no option but to be
more sensitive to the contact, and having dialogues with the South might have been a very dan-
gerous choice. It might be said that it was just a sport exchange, but at the same time it can be
said that the seed of change can be found at the very event. The rule of fungibility can be applied
to explain North Korea’s fee. In contrast, South Korea was much less sensitive, as it stood in a
superior position in the system competition and they decided to take functionalist policies toward
the unification. Then why North Korea decided to hold sport dialogues with the South despite
these possible dangers?
As mentioned above, the frame effect can be an answer. North Korea felt threatened owing to
South Korea’s economic success and rapidly changing international political atmosphere with the
collapse of Cold War, which made North Korea feel that it was in loss frame. Against this back-
drop, North Korea tended to have a risk-taking attitude toward the relationship with the South,
which led to the adventurous approaches and active dialogues during the period of 1988–1991.
That is to say, in the situation of international isolation and economic difficulties, “withering
under isolation or overcoming the difficulties through exchanges with South Korea despite the
danger of regime instability” was the North Korea’s alternatives and it chose risk-taking South–
North dialogues (Kim, 1995, 2000b; Lim, 1997; Snyder, 1995).
The preferential order of the South and North is identical: CC > DC > DD > CD. In this prefer-
ential order, CC is the best choice, which leads to the North’s active approaches and the South’s
affirmative responses. Tables 3 and 4 show the game tree of the period.

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Jung 319

Table 4.  Game tree for South–North sports dialogues during the period of AA & R (NK).

NK’s choice C (accept) D (refuse)

SK’s choice C D C D

Result CC CD DC DD
Interpretation of Advantages: possible Advantages: getting Advantages: Advantages:
results from NK’s critical changes the cause getting domestic getting domestic
standpoint through South–North Disadvantages: solidarity and solidarity and
  exchanges/getting losing the political stability political stability
the cause/getting initiative/possible by showing off by showing off
the financial support domestic backlash a determined a determined
from SK by improving owing to policy attitude toward attitude toward
relationship/increasing failure/possible SK/showing off SK/can blame SK
the number of political instability NK’s leadership for the failure of
amicable group to NK in South–North cooperation
Disadvantages: relations Disadvantages:
possible domestic Disadvantages: losing the chance
backlash losing the cause/ of improving
losing the chance South–North
of improving relationship
PPreferential order 1st 4th 2nd 3rd

Harmony 1998 – 2007

On 31 December 1991, South and North made an Inter-Korean Basic Agreement, which came
into effect on February, 1992, when the delegation chiefs of the two Koreas signed the agreement
at the Sixth South–North Korea high-level talks held in Pyongyang. This brought about hopeful
expectations regarding the relations between the two Koreas. However, before various policies
based on the agreement were implemented, North Korea declared that it would withdraw from
Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) on 12 March 1993, which led the whole Peninsula into
crisis. While the North and the USA negotiated on nuclear issues, Kim Il-sung suddenly died in
July 1994 and this brought about a crisis atmosphere on the Korean Peninsula. However, the
nuclear talks between the USA and North Korea continued and they signed on Geneva Agreement
on 21 October 1994. With the agreement, the nuclear crisis stopped for a while. However, North
Korea, under the flag of “Tong Me Bong Nam” (talks with the USA while no talks with South
Korea) and “military first” policy, pursued isolationist policies, which led to the severance of
South–North exchanges. Owing to the political situation, also on the sport field, no progress was
made and the South–North sport conference proposed for forming a unified team for the 1998
Bangkok Asian Games was refused by the North.
The inauguration of the Kim Dae-jung government, the so-called people’s government, made a
turning point in South–North relations. From the inauguration, the people’s government continu-
ously pursued an appeasement policy represented by “sunshine policy” toward North Korea, which
brought about many changes in the relationship with the North.
It is worth noting that private enterprises played an important role in sport exchanges during the
period. The late Chung Ju-yung’s visit to North Korea in November 1990 made an excellent

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320 International Area Studies Review 16(3)

beginning. He was the legendary founder of the Hyundai Group and from the North. He became
one of the biggest and most vocal advocates for inter-Korean business projects. Hyundai built a
sports complex at Pyongyang in September 1999 and held South–North Basketball Goodwill
Game to celebrate the ground-breaking of the building, which reopened the South–North sport
exchanges. North Korea’s Unification Basketball Team was invited by the late Chung Mong-hun,
the president of Hyundai Development Company. They arrived at Seoul on 22 December 1999 and
spent three nights and four days there.
The South–North summit held in June 2005, 60 years after the division, was the most remark-
able landmark in the history of South–North exchanges. The two leaders of the Koreas officially
agreed upon the way to realize the Unification and also agreed that the two Koreas would try to
peacefully coexist and cooperate instead of pursuing rapid unification. The summit meeting paved
the way for the the two Koreas to regularly meet on every field and suggested the framework for
following dialogues by announcing the 6·15 Joint Declaration. Cooperation and exchanges in the
sport field is mentioned at clause 4.
After the summit, South–North sport exchanges became active, mainly in the form of joint business,
which included Hyundai Asan’s sport complex construction business, Wooinbang Communication’s
Keumgang-san rally business and Samsung’s Unification Table Tennis Goodwill Games, which were
held to celebrate Samsung’s donation of an electronic scoreboard to Pyongyang gymnasium.
The most distinctive result of South–North sport exchanges after 6·15 appeared at the Sydney
Olympic Games 2000, the first Olympics of the twenty-first century. South and North Korean
National teams marched together at the opening ceremony. Under the flag of the Korean Peninsula,
the Team Korea entered the main stadium hand in hand.
However, despite these symbolic events, it was not in every area that South–North sport
exchanges yielded positive results. When South Korea proposed the co-hosting of 2012 FIFA
World Cup, North Korea showed a very reserved attitude toward holding the game on both sides
of the Korean Peninsula. North Korea also refused to answer the proposal of holding a conference
to talk about the unified table tennis team for the 46th World Table Tennis Championship to be held
in Osaka, spring 2001.
In 2002 an historical event occurred in the history of South–North sport exchanges. North
Korea, which had never participated in any international event held in South Korea since the
signing of the Armistice Agreement, joined the 2002 Pusan Asian Games with a large delega-
tion accompanied by a big cheering team. In the same year, Taekwondo demonstration teams
were exchanged and the two Koreas also held a conference to overcome the differences result-
ing from 60 years’ division. After that, North Korea began to show more positive attitudes
toward exchanges even in private sectors. In 2003, North Korea sent an athletes delegation
team and cheering team to Daegu Universiad and unofficial other private-level sport exchanges
were achieved.
Leaders of athletes from South and North of Korea entered into working-level negotiations to
form the first unified team for big international events. South and North agreed that they would
send a unified team to the Asian Games to be held in Doha, Qatar, in December of 2006. Kim Jung-
kil, the president of KOC, met with Mun Jae-duck, the president of PRK, at Guangzhou, China, on
8 September 2005, where they principally agreed upon forming a unified team for the 2006 Asian
Games and also upon three agenda items, including rapidly forming a working-level committee
and holding a goodwill game between South–North football team and Brazil national team. Sheikh
Ahmad al Sabah, the president of the Olympic Council of Asia, who joined the meeting, announced
that “If South and North Korea would send a unified team to Asian Games, OCA would help with
all possible methods. If necessary, OCA would temporarily revise its regulations.”

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Jung 321

The two Koreas also agreed upon forming a unified team for 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.
Several meetings followed, in December 2005 and in June 2006, at Gaeseong, to discuss the flag,
anthem and how to train the delegation team and reached a basic agreement except how to com-
pose the delegation team. Until the following third and fourth meetings, the two Koreas could not
narrow the differences and the meeting failed.
During this period, South–North sport exchanges presented an appearance of very active par-
ticipation and brought a concrete result of agreement on sending a unified team to an international
games. However, this was not a mutual interest resulting from a cooperation of both Koreas, but
rather an outcome of unilateral concession of South Korea which made it possible for both Koreas
to talk in the mood of harmony where “no interests from betrayal exist”.
This can be interpreted as follows. The basic ideas of South Korea’s sunshine policy toward
North Korea, especially sport policy, during this period resemble those of functionalist theory,
especially spillover effect. Functionalism assumes that functional interdependence of two societies
will bring a common interest, which will make the two societies indispensably dependent and
become a motif of integration, and the functional cooperation resulting from a field will spill over
to other fields. Methods of integration assume fulfilling the needs of the people and pursue techni-
cal and functional level cooperation. If states can obtain mutual benefits through this process, this
in turn spreads into other areas that can attract bigger cooperation and ultimately reach a political
It seemed that North Korea fully understood and was aware that South Korea’s Unification
policy was based on functionalist ideas. If so, we can expect that North Korea was well aware of
the fact that South Korea would try to induce North Korea into openness and reformation through
personal and material contact with the South and ultimately build a favorable atmosphere of South-
led Unification. North Korea also knew well about the fact that the South Korean government was
in a way obsessed with the sunshine policy.
Given the situation, North Korea had no reason to try to obtain something through negotiation
with South Korea. Instead, the North could get what it wanted as long as it chimed in with the
South’s proposals or policies. That is to say, the sport exchanges during this period were much
closer to the harmony condition than to the negotiation or cooperation in which actors try to get
some benefits through conflict control or negotiation.
The attitude of North Korea toward the South–North sport exchanges can be interpreted in this
context. North Korea fully understood what South Korea’s policy goal was and preferred accepting
“limited contacts” and “preferred exchanges” to “more contacts” and “more exchanges”. North
Korea’s real intention was to buy some time or catch its breath to overcome international isolation
and economic difficulties by selectively accepting the “limited contacts” and “preferred exchanges”.
Against this backdrop, the strategic choice of the South and North during this period remained
in the “harmony” area, as the South preferred unilateral cooperation to defection regardless of the
North’s choice. In this game structure, it can be evaluated that North Korea is the actor who obtains
unilateral benefits owing to South Korea’s policy choices.

The author explored the South–North Korea exchanges from the Armistice Agreement of 1953 to
2007 and examined the manipulability of sport. To do this, the author adopted the simple 2 × 2
game and analyzed the strategic choice structure of the two Koreas.
When we reviewed the negotiation structure from the division of the Peninsula and to the Roh
Mu-hyon government, it showed continuous changes of situation and each phase can be

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322 International Area Studies Review 16(3)

categorized as follows: deadlock vs harmony, deadlock, cooperation and harmony. After the
inauguration of the Lee Myung-bak government until now, we can say that South–North rela-
tions are under a deadlock condition. In this kind of repeated deadlock and harmony, negotiation
in terms of an “interaction between more than two actors who share the interdependent pur-
poses” is practically impossible. Any meeting at that point would not be for negotiating but
would be an opportunity to have a chance to shout unilaterally.
Sport was most actively used as a tool for dialogue between the two Koreas for three years
from 1989 to 1991. Why the North was so active at having talks with the South during the
period can be explained by North Korea’s sense of relative gains and the frame effect. North
Korea, which perceived itself to be located in a loss frame, took risk-taking choices. Sport was
used only as a tool for contacting the South. This shows that not sport itself brought the
South–North exchanges but rather only after the two Koreas made political decisions was
sport taken into consideration as a tool for fulfilling policy goals pursued by the governments
of the two Koreas.
Therefore, on the contrary to the arguments of some existing studies which adopted functional-
ist approaches, it can be said that sport exchanges did not work as the starting point of the function-
alist spillover effect, which induces the cooperation in other fields owing to the functional
cooperative relations formed from cooperation in a certain field, but were used as a tool for com-
pleting policy goals set by the two Koreas’ governments. Any meeting at that point, at which two
governments had no real intention of cooperation, would not be for negotiating but would be an
opportunity to have a chance of shouting unilaterally and forwarding a cause. That is to say, even
though sport contains an excellent manipulative utility, what makes it work is the political deci-
sion-making and strategic choice of the two Koreas.
Since the inauguration of Lee Myung-bak’s government, the relations between the two Koreas
have remained in the frame of deadlock. The situation did not change greatly even after the inau-
guration of Park Geun-hye’s government. After the sinking of the ROK’s Cheonan ship and artil-
lery attacks on Yeonpyeong Island in 2010, South–North relations have been frustrated. In early
April 2013, North Korea even closed Gaeseong Industrial Complex, which had stood as the last
symbolic place of South–North cooperation since its inception in 2004. The prospects for changing
the frozen relationship between the two Koreas are gloomy and it is strongly suggested that either
of the two Koreas should try to change the present game structure of deadlock into another. During
this procedure, sport can be used as an effective tool for inducing a change in attitude. The author
thinks that the South taking the initiative would be much more efficient than to wait for the North
to move first.
Lee Myung-bak’s government declared that South–North relations cannot be revised without
the North’s apologies for the sinking of the Cheonan, and South Korea will not provide aid to
North Korea. After the inauguration, Park Geun-hye’s government tried to open a new era with the
North by proposing a Seoul Process based on the so-called trustpolitik, but it has so far borne little
fruit, prompting criticism of the president’s obstinacy and inflexibility. However, that is the time to
aggressively seek a turning point, when the situation remains at the worst.
Supporting the North is not the pre-requisite for reopening South–North dialogues. The meeting
of separated families can be proposed despite the bad conditions, and the South–North sport
exchanges provided a place for South–North dialogue even in the days of confrontation between
the two Koreas owing to the nuclear crisis. However, it should be remembered at the same time that
proposing a dialogue does not guarantee its realization. This article shows that sport can be used as
a good catalyst for cooperation only after some political decisions are made by the governments of
the two Koreas.

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Jung 323

To conclude, we should remember that there always exists the possibility of holding a sport
conference with North Korea and all we need is the political decision of the government. In this
rapidly changing and globalized world, the Korean Peninsula faces a time of strategic decision-
making which can ultimately maximize the national interest of Korea by changing the game struc-
ture. What will be the next move?

This article was funded in part by the Korea Foundation, grant 1140000-000248.

1. Data can be found at http://dialogue.unikorea.go.kr/
2. More detailed explanations about “pseudo negotiation” can be found at Kim (1995) and Song (2002).
Other articles that can be suggested for understanding North Korean negotiating behaviors are Kang and
Song (2004), Kim and Je (1994), Lim (1997) and Hong (1997).
3. In terms of South–North Korea dialogues, “successful” means that a certain dialogue develops into an
official dialogue or negotiation which leads to some concrete results of cooperation or further negotiation
between the two Koreas, as it stops at a pre-stage in most cases. As the term “pseudo-negotiation” shows,
South–North dialogues were “negotiation for negotiation’s sake” or used as a venue for blaming each
4. Cases of using sport as a political tool in Olympics can be found at Cashmore (2005: 429–434).

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