North Korean cheerleaders wave Unified Korea flags during the men's preliminary round ice hockey match between South Korea and Czech Republic during the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympic Games at the Gangneung Hockey Centre in Gangneung on February 15, 2018.
Photo by Ed Jones—AFP/Getty Images
March 9, 2018 10:35 AM EST

North and South Korea marched together at the opening and closing ceremonies for the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics, but a dispute over the unified flag drove them apart at the opening ceremony for the Paralympics on Friday.

The two nations decided to forgo the symbol of unity because of a tiny island chain that would have amounted to little more than a dot on the flag.

The show of division came on the same day that President Donald Trump announced that he agreed to meet face-to-face with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. The two leaders have shared a strained relationship prior to the agreement, involving threats over nuclear capabilities and insults.


Members of the North Korean national team during the parade of athletes at the Opening Ceremony of the 2018 Winter Paralympic Games at PyeongChang Olympic Stadium
Vladimir Smirnov –Vladimir Smirnov/TASS

North Korea asked that the Dokdo Islands, which Japan now claims and calls Takeshima, be included on the flag, according to BBC. The unified flag, which was seen at the Winter Olympics, showed the Korean peninsula in blue against a white background. South Korea said putting the islands on the flag would violate the International Paralympics Committee’s recommendation not to politicize sports events.

North Korean officials said they do “not accept the fact that Dokdo cannot be marked due to political issues held in Korea,” Reuters reported.

The two Korean nations agreed to “respect each other’s stance and march separately” following the flag disagreement, BBC reported.

Despite the rift, South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency reported that the North Koreans were cheered when they entered the arena at the Paralympics opening ceremony on Friday.

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