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Inter-Korean sports exchanges expected to boost ties

With the two Koreas set to hold talks on sports Monday, expectations are growing that cross-border sports exchanges would lead to improved inter-Korean ties.

Plans surrounding the joint entrance and teams for the 2018 Jakarta-Palembang Asian Games in August are expected to be discussed, as South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un agreed to jointly participate in the games during the inter-Korean summit on April 27. 


“Sports diplomacy” has often been successful in laying the ground for a diplomatic thaw, as was most recently seen in North Korea’s move to send athletes and high-level officials to the PyeongChang Winter Olympics held in the South in February, which led to a thaw in strained inter-Korean relations.

During the PyeongChang Olympics, a joint women’s ice hockey team competed against global rivals and athletes made a joint entrance at the games’ opening ceremony under the Korean Unification Flag, a white flag with the blue shape of the Korean Peninsula in the center.

Inter-Korean sports exchanges are forecast to gain more traction, as North Korea has been actively responding to plans for the Asian Games and other possibilities.

At a press conference held Friday, Culture, Sports and Tourism Minister Do Jong-hwan revealed that the South had initially offered to form joint teams for canoeing and rowing for the upcoming Asian Games, but the North expressed a wish to expand the number of sports in which it could participate. The issue will be further discussed at Monday’s meeting, Do added.

Do also mentioned a possible cross-border basketball match, noting North Korean leader Kim’s “big interest” in such a plan. Kim is known to be an avid basketball fan, and reportedly expressed his interest in kicking-off the inter-Korean sports exchange with a basketball match to Moon at the April summit in Panmunjeom.

“Previous inter-Korean exchanges were largely affected by external factors such as US-North Korea relations, but the April 27 Panmunjeom Declaration has allowed the two Koreas to gain more control over such exchanges,” said Kim Dong-yub, a professor at Kyungnam University’s Far East Institute.

“It is crucial that through sports, military, and Red Cross talks lined up this month that the two Koreas cooperate in forming a solid power that could give them more control over such exchanges.”

Following the PyeongChang Olympics, South and North Korea have tried to maintain the momentum of sports exchanges. They fielded a unified women’s team at the World Team Table Tennis Championships in Halmstad, Sweden, last month. The South Korean team and the North Korean team competed against each other in the quarterfinals, but advanced to the semifinals together as a unified team.

Cultural exchanges between the two Koreas are expected to gain traction as well. At a performance by South Korean K-pop artists in Pyongyang in April, Kim Jong-un said that a similar performance by a North Korean art troupe should be held in the coming fall.

Monday’s meeting is scheduled to kick-off at 10 a.m. at the South Korean side of the border village of Panmunjeom, according to the Ministry of Unification. A three-member South Korean delegation will be led by Jeon Choong-ryul, incumbent secretary-general of the Korean Sport & Olympic Committee, while North Korea’s Vice Sports Minister Won Kil-u will lead the North Korean team.

By Jung Min-kyung (