Mike Pence was a man with a mission. At stages through the opening parts of the Winter Olympics in South Korea, he looked like a man on a mission. With diplomatic gestures flowering all around with weedy vigour in Pyeonchang, he was intent on fighting them. The gardener of empire had his implements at the ready.
The US Vice-President had a brief: ignore, stall, and frustrate. Most of all, be wary of being wooed. “We’ll continue,” he warned on Thursday, “to seize every opportunity to ensure that North Korea does not use the powerful imagery and backdrop of the Olympics to paper over an appalling record of human rights and a pattern of developing weapons and conducting the kind of missile launches that are threatening our nation and threatening neighbours across the region.”
He proceeded to meet four North Korean defectors. He had been in Japan announcing “the toughest and most aggressive” sanctions against Pyongyang yet, exhorting troops at Yokota Air Base to guard against “the rogue regime in North Korea”. At the opening ceremony, he refused to engage with his North Korean counterparts. That ice, at least for the moment, would remain in place.
The fact that progress is being made by both Koreas in a multi-decade conflict goes against the grain of US foreign policy. (Admittedly, this grain varies depending on mood, timing and person.) Rather than expressing sighs of relief that the two Koreas, who ultimately are the only ones…