Seating arrangements are an almost universally stress-inducing task. Whether it’s for a wedding or the Academy Awards, being in charge of where the most important people in the room are sitting can be nearly impossible.
Now imagine having to do it with world leaders who are engaged in threats of nuclear war and mounting mutual propaganda attacks. That’s the issue the South Koreans face as they prepare for the opening ceremonies in PyeongChang, where Mike Pence and the sister of Kim Jong Un, Kim Yo Jong, will sit uncomfortably close — just meters from each other — in what is being called a “protocol headache.”
Per CNN, this will be the first time any member of the Kim dynasty has visited South Korea, and it’s being interpreted as intentionally antagonistic toward the United States, whose delegation includes the Vice President and Fred Warmbier — the father of Otto Warmbier, the American college student who died shortly after being released by North Korea after being held as a criminal for over a year.
Trump addressed the Warmbier family in his State of the Union speech and on Monday, Pence announced that Fred would join him in PyeongChang, and Ivanka Trump will head the delegation for the closing ceremonies.
“We’re traveling to the Olympics to make sure that North Korea doesn’t use the powerful symbolism and the backdrop of the Winter Olympics to paper over the truth about their regime,” Pence recently told reporters.
It’s not an unfounded fear. While the North Koreans only have 22 athletes competing in the Games, their delegation is one of the largest of all the participating nations. Kim Jong Un held a massive military parade in Pyeongyang on Thursday, just one day ahead of the opening ceremonies. The parade featured intercontinental ballistic missiles as well as tanks, armored vehicles, jet flyovers and thousands of goose-stepping troops, and in a speech Kim claimed the parade signaled their emergence as a ”global military power” despite facing the ”worst sanctions.”
However it’s worth noting that in spite of all the posturing the South Koreans remain committed to creating a peaceful energy around the games despite the international tensions. The Korean Supporters are a group of locals who will cheer for other countries in an effort to promote the spirit of the Olympics.
“We’re cheering in Russian, English, Chinese, Japanese,” said Ki Yang Cho, head of communications for the Korean Supporters. “We’re going to have chants. We’re going to call out phrases. We’re going to wave flags.”
Hopefully that’s the sentiment that will endure throughout the games, but particularly on Friday night when these delegations unite for the opening ceremonies.