Asia Minute: Basketball Diplomacy on the Korean Peninsula

Jul 4, 2018

Credit Staff Sgt. Amber Grimm / U.S. Air Force

On this Independence Day, there’s an unusual event marking the day on the Korean peninsula. It’s a basketball game involving teams from North Korea and South Korea—and a date that is significant for both sides.

Ping pong diplomacy played a role in opening up China. But it appears that basketball is taking the lead in Korea — and this has nothing to do with Dennis Rodman.

A delegation of more than 100 South Koreans is in Pyongyang this week, and the focus is hoops.

Members of South Korea’s national men’s and women’s basketball teams will take part in something that hasn’t happened in 15 years — a set of inter-Korean basketball games.

The basketball games started in 1999 — the idea was to have them every year, but they stopped in 2003. Today, players from both countries will be mixed into two teams — one called “Peace” and the other “Prosperity.”

Tomorrow, the two Korean teams will play each other. South Korea’s Unification Minister is along for the trip — the first time a South Korean official in that position has been north of the border for eleven years.

South Korea Men's National Basketball team in 2014 Basketball World Cup against Mexico.
Credit Stephreef / Wikimedia Commons

He says it’s significant that the games will start on July 4th — the date not only of the U.S. Declaration of Independence, but also the Panmunjeom Declaration of 1972.

That was the first joint document produced by the two Koreas, and it said that unification should be achieved without relying on foreign powers or military force.