Tension on the Korean Peninsula had reached a boiling point by the time Kim Jong-un delivered his New Year’s address—a tradition set by his grandfather that he had revived in 2013. Beyond the talk of a “nuclear button,” which triggered another round of fiery exchanges with Donald Trump, Kim devoted a considerable segment of his speech to calling for improved inter-Korean relations. Though signaling an ambiguous friendly overture to the South has become an annual exercise for Kim, this year’s speech was uncharacteristically specific in that he offered to send a delegation to South Korea’s highly anticipated Pyeongchang Winter Olympics. But sports diplomacy is hardly new to Kim; an avid sports fan himself, Kim is acutely aware of its propaganda value and utility as a channel for diplomacy. For Kim, the Pyeongchang Olympics presented a timely opportunity to remake the regime’s flailing image at home and abroad.
In this chapter, the Pyeongchang Olympics are used as a case study to understand Kim’s public relations strategy. Before exploring the strategic intentions behind Kim’s diplomatic campaign, both the old and new features of his image-making efforts are examined, focusing in particular on his use of sports diplomacy. How Kim’s charm offensive in Pyeongchang is communicated internally and received externally is then analyzed, yielding important insights about the prospects of reconciliation between the two Koreas post-Olympics.