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Issue #1830      July 11, 2018

Slam dunk unity

Dozens of South Korean basketball players arrived in North Korea’s capital on July 3 for a series of games the two Koreas hope will foster a spirit of detente generated by the recent North-South summit meetings.

The 50 players arrived in Pyongyang on two military aircraft.

South Korean Unification Minister Cho Myoung Gyon headed the delegation, which included 20 government officials and support staff and dozens of South Korean reporters.

North Korea’s Deputy Sports Minister Won Kil U led the North’s welcoming party.

The South Korean male and female basketball players are expected to play four matches with North Koreans. It was not clear whether North Korean leader Kim Jong Un would attend any of the games, but he did make a prominent appearance at a concert put on by South Korean musicians in Pyongyang earlier this year.

The exchanges are the latest result of a diplomatic outreach to the South that Kim announced during his annual New Year’s speech. That led to the North’s participation in the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in February and two summits with South Korean President Moon Jae In.

Kim has also had three summits with China’s leader and met US President Donald Trump last month in Singapore.

Cho, the South Korean unification minister, said he felt “deeply moved” upon arrival because he could sense the change in relations in the past few months.

Basketball diplomacy has something of a history in North Korea.

Basketball made international headlines from Pyongyang when former NBA player Dennis Rodman arranged a game there in 2014 for Kim’s birthday.

South Korea’s Hyundai company built a basketball stadium in Pyongyang during the “Sunshine Period” of engagement between the North and South and a joint game was played there in 2003.

Two rounds of inter-Korean basketball games were held before that, in 1999.

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