Ping-Pong Diplomacy: North and South Korea Combine Teams for World Table Tennis Tournament

AP Jonas Ekstromer
AP Photo/Jonas Ekstromer

North and South Korea announced that the two countries would combine players to compete as a unified team, to conclude this year’s table tennis tournament in Sweden.

As part of their pursuit of peace talks, leaders of the two Korea’s announced that their teams would now continue as one team through the 2018 World Team Table Tennis Championships instead of as separate teams, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The decision was made after both North and South Korean teams advanced separately to the quarterfinals and would have been required to face each other in competition. But instead of being put in that position, the teams met and petitioned championship officials to combine teams and advance together instead of being forced to try and eliminate each other.

“When I informed the board of directors about this development, the unified team received a standing ovation from the delegates, who showed their sign of support to this historic move,” Thomas Weikert, president of the International Table Tennis Federation, told the Times.

“This is a big historical decision for both our countries,” South Korean sports official Ryu Seungmin said. “This is an important statement to promote peace between our countries through table tennis.”

The decision in Sweden is the second time the two nations have joined together in sports. The North and South Korean women’s hockey teams combined during the recent 2018 Winter Olympics in PeyongChang, South Korea.

This is not the first time that table tennis has been a forum for diplomacy. In the 1970s the Nixon administration helped open the door to relations between Communist China and the U.S. with a series of games between the two countries. Often called “Ping-Pong diplomacy,” the games paved the way for Nixon to become the first American president to visit the People’s Republic of China and begin to thaw relations between the two countries.

Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston.

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