South Korea has invited North Korean athletes to a game of Ping-Pong in Busan next year.
The Korea Table Tennis Association (KTTA) says it sent the invitation all the way to Pyongyang through the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF), which is holding the World Team Table Tennis Championship from March 22 to March 29 next year. The KTTA is also considering the idea of creating a joint Korean team.
So far, no official response from North Korea has been made public, but analysts say the invitation is South Korea’s latest attempt at maintaining momentum in inter-Korean relations.
“South Korea’s approach is to engage on all fronts while upholding economic sanctions on North Korea that endure for lack of denuclearization,” Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul, wrote in an email to VOA News. “Sports diplomacy is a useful tool, but Ping-Pong alone is unlikely to make a breakthrough with Pyongyang.”
South Korea’s renewed relationship with the North is largely rooted in sports, with the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics paving the way for inter-Korean exchanges and nuclear talks in February 2018. Later that year in May, the two Koreas formed a joint team and took home a bronze medal at the World Team Table Tennis Championship quarterfinals in Halmstad, Sweden.
Since then, North Korea has dispatched Ping-Pong players to the Korea Open in Daejeon and at the ITTF World Tour Grand Finals in Incheon.
South Korea’s latest invitation comes during a time of increased military tensions between Washington and Pyongyang ahead of Kim Jong Un’s end-of-year deadline to see progress in nuclear negotiations with President Donald Trump. For now, experts like Easley are unsure whether a match of Ping-Pong will make a significant difference.
“The Kim regime has nearly frozen inter-Korean exchanges, and while Seoul still looks to provide enticements, North Korea should be held accountable for failing to meet its commitments,” he said.