Sports are soothing tensions on the Korean Peninsula. More than a dozen athletes from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea are at a table tennis tournament in South Korea.
CGTN’s Jack Barton explains why athletes and diplomats have high hopes for the team.
The International Table Tennis Federation’s Korea Open is underway in Daejeon, which is about 160 kilometers south of the capital Seoul. For the first time, the DPRK has sent 16 athletes to attend the event in South Korea.
Those athletes are competing as part of an inter-Korean team that includes men’s, women’s and mixed doubles teams. The team is hoping for some success, and this isn’t without precedent. This will be the third time there has been an inter-Korean table tennis team.
Back in May (the second time), the world saw the women’s doubles team take out the bronze in Sweden. In 1991 (the first time), the women’s doubles team caused a surprise upset by defeating defending champion, China. It’s all part of a growing, soft diplomacy the world is seeing between Pyongyang and Seoul.
This soft diplomacy isn’t just in sports. There’s been cooperation in multiple areas, from forestry and planned family reunions to art troupes. There are even DPRK movies in a film festival currently underway in South Korea.
Regardless, it’s sports that’s been the driving force in diplomacy, ever since the Winter Olympics. The two Koreas can’t engage in economic cooperation because of sanctions. Meanwhile, Pyongyang and Washington are focusing on denuclearization talks. These are the areas where Pyongyang and Seoul can cooperate, and they see this as assistance to the broader process.
The Korea Open runs until July 22, with the main knockout rounds on Thursday. The open is being seen as a practice run for another area of inter-Korean cooperation: the upcoming Asia Games in Indonesia. While, there, the two Koreas will be fielding unified teams in some (though not all) events, including a joint marching team in the opening.