About the Author
Dagyum Ji is a senior NK News correspondent based in Seoul. She previously worked for Reuters TV.
The two Koreas held two mixed basketball games in the North Korean capital on Wednesday afternoon, the South Korean Press Pool in Pyongyang reported.
Male and female players from the North and South were combined and organized into two teams called “Team Peace” and “Team Prosperity.”
Team Prosperity took 103-102 win over Team Peace in the women’s game, while the results of the men’s match are yet to be released.
The two Koreas also plan to form a united women’s basketball team for the 2018 Asian Games, which will be held in Jakarta and Palembang, Indonesia between August 18 and September 2.
Despite the South Korean Ministry of Unification (MOU) on Wednesday morning saying that Seoul expected him to attend the match, DPRK leader Kim Jong Un did not make an appearance.
The DPRK leader has long been known to be a basketball fan, famously inviting former NBA hall-of-famer Dennis Rodman to North Korea multiple times in recent years.
He also reportedly proposed the resumption of sports exchanges – particularly in basketball – during a visit to Pyongyang by an ROK delegation in April.
Tuesday also saw North Korean vice-minister of Physical Culture and Sports Won Kil U say the basketball games were being held “on the direct suggestion” of Kim Jong Un.
In opening remarks, DPRK minister of Physical Culture and Sports Kim Il Guk said the North-South unification basketball game was an “auspicious event for the nation,” the ROK press pool in Pyongyang reported.
“Let us bring forward the day of unification when the entire nation embraces each other and hurray as soon as possible by successfully fostering a dream of improving inter-Korean relations set by the North and South Korean leaders,” Kim was quoted as having said.
In response to Kim’s speech, ROK Minister of Unification Cho Myoung-gyon said the unification basketball match would “greatly contribute to the expansion and development of sports exchanges and national reconciliation and unity.”
“Even though there was a difficult time, the desire of the nation for the reconciliation between the South and the North and peace settlement on our land has overcome difficulties,” the minister was quoted as saying by pool reporters.
Wednesday saw several senior North Korean officials attend the game.
Among them were chairman of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country (CPRC) Ri Son Gwon, sports minister Kim Il Guk, and vice-premier of the Cabinet Jon Kwang Ho.
Choe Hwi, who serves as vice-chairman of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) and chairman of the National Sports Guidance Committee, was also present, the ROK press pool in Pyongyang reported.
Seoul and Pyongyang are set to hold two “goodwill” matches between each side’s men’s and women’s teams on Thursday.
The South Korean delegation, comprised of 101 basketball players, press corps, broadcasting team and government officials, will stay in Pyongyang until Friday.
DPRK minister Kim Il Guk hosted a welcome reception at Pyongyang’s famous Okryugwan restaurant on Tuesday night, according to the South Korean press pool in the North Korean capital.
A local official told pool reporters that the banquet’s good atmosphere demonstrated the extent to which inter-Korean relations had improved.
“There was no welcome reception when the performing squad arrived here for concerts last time,” the DPRK official, whose name was withheld in the pool report, said.
“But the reception was held on the first day of the arrival, and we low-level officials could recognize that the atmosphere has been improved,” he added.
“There was the Panmunjom Declaration on April 27, followed by another summit. Today’s event could take place because of such atmosphere.”
Inter-Korean Athletic Talks in June saw Seoul and Pyongyang agree to hold North-South “unification” basketball games on the occasion of July 4, the anniversary of the signing of the 1972 Joint Communiqué.
The two Koreas previously hosted two so-called “unification basketball tournaments” in September and December 1999 in Pyongyang and Seoul.
Inter-Korean basketball matches have not taken place, however, since October 2003 when a game was held to celebrate the opening of Pyongyang’s Hyundai-backed Ryugyong Jong Ju Yong Gymnasium.
Meanwhile, South Korean presidential spokesperson Kim Eui-keum on Wednesday said Seoul was unsure if Minister of Unification and chief delegate Cho Myoung-gyon would meet with Kim Jong Un while in Pyongyang, though hinted that talks may take place.
The South Korean delegation’s visit, however, does overlap with a scheduled visit by U.S. State of Secretary Mike Pompeo to Pyongyang, set to take place on Thursday.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured Image: South Korean Press Pool in Pyongyang