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S. Korea hopes sports exchanges will help improve frayed inter-Korean ties

2017/08/27 10:37

SEOUL, Aug. 27 (Yonhap) -- South Korea is pinning hopes that North Korea's participation in the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics will facilitate sports exchanges and pave the way for easing of tensions between the two neighbors.

With less than six months to go before the start of the Winter Games, the government of President Moon Jae-in is seeking North's participation in the premier winter sports event so that it can help restore two-way communication disconnected during nine-year rule of his two conservative predecessors.

South and North Korea held their first talks on sports in January 1963 in Lausanne, Switzerland to discuss whether to create a unified team for the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

The rival Koreas sat together for talks for the first time after the 1950-53 Korean War, indicating that sports exchanges could be used to ease military tensions even in the wake of a particularly bloody conflict.

Their attempt to make a united team fell through, but international sports games had served as a venue for the two Koreas to come to talks and seek reconciliation.

South and North Korea fielded joint teams at the 1991 World Table Tennis Championships and the 1991 FIFA World Youth Championship.

South Korean table tennis player Hyun Jung-hwa played double matches with Li Bun-hui from North Korea, upsetting China, which was gunning for a consecutive title.

The 1991 world championships marked the first time the two Koreas created a united team in any international sports competition, and the team remains the only joint Korean squad in any sport to win an international title.

This file photo shows South Korean table tennis player Hyun Jung-hwa (R) and Li Bun-hui from North Korea playing double matches under a unified team at the 1991 World Table Tennis Championships. (Yonhap) This file photo shows South Korean table tennis player Hyun Jung-hwa (R) and Li Bun-hui from North Korea playing double matches under a unified team at the 1991 World Table Tennis Championships. (Yonhap)

Since 1991, the two Koreas have failed to create a single team. But athletes from the rival Koreas marched under a unified Korean flag at the opening ceremonies of the Olympics and Asian Games several times including at the 2000 Sydney Summer Olympics and the 2002 Busan Asian Games.

North Korea did not take part in the 1988 Summer Olympics held in Seoul, but it sent a delegation of three high-ranking officials -- Hwang Pyong-so, Choe Ryong-hae and the late Kim Yang-gon -- to the closing ceremony of the 2014 Asian Games held in the South.

Top military official Hwang is a close aide to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, making him the highest-ranking North Korean official to have visited the South in recent years.

At the height of military tensions in 2002 when a naval skirmish occurred near the western sea border, North Korea sent its sports team and a cheering squad to the Busan Asian Games in South Korea.

There were scant sports exchanges during conservative governments of President Lee Myung-bak and his successor Park Geun-hye from February 2008 and May 2017.

Amid strained ties, athletes from the two Koreas did not jointly march at the opening ceremonies of international sports games since the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics.

sooyeon@yna.co.kr

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