The 2018 Winter Olympic Games are due to be held in PyeongChang, South Korea, early next year. Understandably, they are already somewhat controversial, because of the increasing tensions with North Korea, which lies not far above where the Games will be held.
But this week, the Games have become the subject of a different controversy after the event's organizers published a map on their website that inconveniently didn't feature neighboring Japan.
This error caught the attention of Japanese social media users, many of whom questioned whether it was a deliberate snub.
The map has since been corrected, but only after the Japan Sports Agency demanded a correction from the Korean Embassy in Tokyo, agency official Masahide Katsumata told the Associated Press. The PyeongChang organizing committee told the news agency that the omission of Japan was a “simple mistake” caused by changes in image files for the website.
Innocent mistake or not, the timing was awkward. Earlier this month, North Korea had warned that Japan “should be sunken into the sea” with a nuclear bomb — an increasingly ominous threat, as Pyongyang has fired two missiles over Japan in the past two months.
Arguably, officials in PyeongChang should understand concern about these threats better than most. The city changed its name from Pyongchang in 2007 as it entered its Olympic bid — a move designed to avoid confusion with Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea.
The map error also highlighted ongoing disputes between Seoul and Tokyo. The two nations have long been at odds over Japan's wartime aggression, particularly the use of “comfort women” before and during World War II, an issue that still a source of diplomatic tensions between the nations. There are territorial disputes, too: Japan wants South Korea to stop referring to the body of water between the two countries as the East Sea and instead refer to it as the Sea of Japan, while both sides claim a set of remote islands in these waters called Dokdo by South Korea and Takeshima by Japan.
In 2014, South Korea rejected a suggestion from the International Olympic Committee to co-host the 2018 Winter Olympic Games with Japan, a country better known for its winter sports, as a cost-cutting measure — similar to how the two countries had shared the 2002 World Cup at the suggestion of soccer's governing body, FIFA.
“The South Korean people would never accept it,” said Choi Moon-soon, governor of Gangwon province, which contains PyeongChang.
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