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Sports diplomacy

June 26,2017
President Moon Jae-in on Saturday invited North Korea to form a united Korean team to compete in the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Games and to send its cheering squad in a move to provide a breakthrough in the deadlock in inter-Korean relations through a sports exchange. In his opening address to the World Taekwondo Championships that kicked off on Saturday, Moon said he wished to see a single Korean team repeat the glory of winning the 1991 World Table Tennis Championship and the FIFA World Youth Championship at the upcoming Winter Olympics held in Pyeongchang in the South this coming winter.

Moon was making a rather rushed proposal of forming a joint team with just seven months left to the winter Games, as bilateral political or economic exchanges are expected to be difficult while Pyongyang keeps up its nuclear and missile provocations.

The new government is eager to renew contact with Pyongyang without violating the international sanctions and is hoping sports can build the long-awaited momentum needed in order to begin improving bilateral ties.

The government has sent consistent messages to Pyongyang that it is more willing to improve relations than past conservative administrations have been. While meeting FIFA President Gianni Infantino, Moon floated the idea of the two Koreas along with neighboring China and Japan co-hosting the 2030 World Cup to help cement regional peace.

Separately, sports minister Do Jong-hwan proposed that the two Koreas form a joint women’s hockey team to compete in the Pyeongchang Olympics and asked the North to share its Masikryong ski resort for some of the games during the Olympics.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of a joint declaration to expand the economic relationship between then-leaders of the two Koreas Roh Moo-hyun and Kim Jong-il. Sports exchanges could help break the ice between the two Koreas.

The unification ministry is pushing for a reunion of separated families around the Chuseok holiday in October.

The civilian-level inter-Korean exchanges, however, must be sought with respect to the international sanctions and endeavors to contain Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile advances. Seoul must not upset Washington, which has been making efforts to pressure Beijing and Moscow to level more sanctions against Pyongyang. It must make sure that its offer of sports cooperation is not abused by the Pyongyang regime for its weapons program and propagandist purposes.

JoongAng Ilbo, June 26, Page 30