- The Washington Times - Friday, January 12, 2018

South Korea is floating a proposal to create a joint women’s hockey team with North Korea for the upcoming Winter Olympics in the South, despite the two nations technically remaining in a state of war against each other.

A top South Korean official said the prospect of a unified Korean team was discussed during the sudden round of diplomacy this week between North and South, according to the official Yonhap News Agency in Seoul.

The North, which participated in talks with officials from the South on Tuesday, has not yet responded to the proposal for a joint team, which would be unusual but not totally unprecedented.

Yonhap noted that North and South Korea fielded joint teams at the 1991 World Table Tennis Championships and the 1991 FIFA World Youth Championship, although they have never had a unified team in any sport at multi-sport competitions like the Olympics or the Asian Games.

The news agency said South Korean Sports Minister Do Jong-hwan first raised the possibility of one Korean hockey team last year, but was immediately met with criticism.

Opponents of the idea said it was unfair to take away roster spots from South Korean players to make room for North Koreans and risk disrupting team chemistry.

The two Koreas are likely to hold working-level talks next week to further discuss the issue, and more broadly on what the North’s overall participation in the games will look like.

The two nations, which are divided by a highly fortified Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), have technically remained at conflict with each other since the 1953 armistice that froze the Korean War. The United States has roughly 30,000 military personnel position in the South along the DMZ.

Officials from North and South held their first direct talks in two years on Tuesday — after which Pyongyang announced it would send a delegation to the Winter Olympics that begin Feb. 9 in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

The sudden flurry of sports diplomacy contrasts tensions that have risen on the Korean peninsula in recent years amid a growing number of nuclear weapons and ballistic missile tests by the North, as well as increasingly threatening rhetoric from Pyongyang toward the United States.

The Trump has administration responded cautiously to this week’s talks.

President Trump indicated fresh openness to the prospect of eventual U.S. talks with North Korea. But Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is slated to co-host a meeting of diplomats in Canada next week to show international solidarity against Pyongyang’s ongoing weapons tests, which Washington and its allies say have flagrantly violated of U.N. Security Council resolutions.

It remains to be seen how the evolving sports diplomacy between will impact situation long term.

The International Olympic Committee (OIC) is slated to host a meeting next week with officials from the two Koreas in Switzerland to discuss details of the North’s participation in the Olympics.

With that as a backdrop, the South’s Vice Sports Minister Roh Tae-kang said putting together the unified Korean women’s hockey team is being discussed, along with a proposal for a joint North-South parade into the opening ceremony for the games.

According to Yonhap, Mr. Roh was a member of the South Korean delegation at this weeks talks between North and South. The news agency said Mr. Roh did not elaborate on whether the North had agreed to form one hockey team, but indicated he is seeking cooperation from the IOC to add extra roster spots for the Korean team, which would keep the current South Korean team intact.

“Even if we have one Korean team in women’s hockey, we’ll make sure it will not come at the expense of South Korean players,” Mr. Roh said, adding that the IOC and the International Ice Hockey Federation seeking understanding from other participating nations.

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