Athletes from North Korea and South Korea marching under the same flag in the opening ceremonies of the 2018 Olympic Winter Games was a significant symbolic moment for many. Vice President Mike Pence, in Pyeongchang to lead the U.S. delegation, was not impressed, however.
The Washington Post’s Anna Fifield described “huge cheers” when the unified Korea team entered the stadium on Friday. She also said it appeared that everyone in the VP’s box stood to acknowledge the moment — except Pence and his wife, Karen.
If Pence used the moment to make a political statement, it would be an interesting tactic, considering he walked out of an NFL game last year because several players linked arms or took a knee during the playing of the national anthem — a silent protest against injustice and inequality that Pence just couldn’t bear to witness.
A White House official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told the Associated Press “Pence stood only for the U.S. team, despite other people in the box standing and applauding when athletes from the two Koreas walked in together.” Pence was seated next to South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, with Kim Yo Jong, sister of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, seated behind them.
The Pyeongchang Olympics begin amid a tense standoff over North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs, but Pence is making no effort to ease the tensions, ThinkProgress’ Doroty Parvaz reported earlier this week. The vice president said he has “no plans” to meet with North Korean officials and instead plans to tell “the truth about North Korea at every stop.” As another indication of the tone he plans to set at these games, Pence brought the parents of Otto Warmbier — a student who suffered severe brain injuries while being detained in North Korea, and later died — with him to Pyeongchang.
On Friday, Pence sharply criticized North Korea for staging a large military parade the day before the games opened, calling it “an ongoing provocation,” despite the fact that the White House just confirmed this week that Pence’s boss asked for the same thing in the U.S. The Department of Defense is reportedly “putting together some options” for a military parade, at President Trump’s request.