North Korea Invites South Korean Taekwondo Demo Team to Pyongyang

Ben Cho, March 6, 2018, 8:40 a.m.

North Korea has invited a South Korean taekwondo demonstration team to Pyongyang, the latest show of detente on the heels of the two sides' Olympic cooperation. Chung Eui-yong, South Korean President Moon Jae-in's top security adviser, made the announcement on Tuesday, following his two-day trip to the North Korean capital, where he and four other envoys met with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

The North's invitation of the taekwondo demonstration team, along with an art performance group, was perhaps lost in the shuffle amid other items from Chung's announcement, including the Koreas' agreement to hold a summit in April.

The visit by South Korean taekwondo practitioners and performing artists, if realized, will reciprocate an earlier visit by their North Korean counterparts during the Feb. 9-25 PyeongChang Winter Olympics. It would be the first trip by a South Korean taekwondo demonstration team to North Korea in 16 years.

A North Korean taekwondo team held four shows in South Korea, including a joint performance with South Korea during the pre-shows of the Olympic opening ceremony on Feb. 9. North Korea's Samjiyon Orchestra, made up of 140 orchestra members, singers and dancers, staged two performances.

These visits came about after an inter-Korean agreement reached during high-level talks in January. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) later approved the agreement, which also included a joint march at the opening ceremony, the participation of 22 North Korean athletes and a unified Korean women's ice hockey team.

Though North Korea didn't win any medals and the joint hockey team lost all five games it played, the two Koreas' rare show of unity was hailed in many quarters. The IOC in particular said the Koreas were the embodiment of the Olympic spirit of peace.

Taekwondo, a traditional Korean martial art, has been a key part of inter-Korean cooperative steps since last year. Such moves can be traced back to August 2014, when Seoul-based World Taekwondo (WT), the only global taekwondo body recognized by the IOC, and the North-led International Taekwondo Federation (ITF) reached a landmark agreement.

Titled "Protocol of Accord," the agreement outlined areas of mutual cooperation. The ITF sent a demonstration to the WT World Taekwondo Championships in Muju, 240 kilometers south of Seoul, last June. It was the first instance of inter-Korean sports exchange under the new Moon Jae-in administration in the South.

And it was during the ITF team's visit that Moon called on North Korea to participate in the PyeongChang Olympics and expressed his hope for a joint Korean team. South Korea never paid its reciprocal visit in September last year, as Pyongyang's nuclear and missile launches increased tensions on the peninsula.

But the mood changed for the better at the turn of the year after Kim Jong-un offered to send an athletic delegation to PyeongChang in his New Year's message. The Koreas quickly met to discuss and finalize North Korean participation and also its taekwondo practitioners' visit.

And barely a month after North Korea's momentous performance at PyeongChang's opening ceremony, taekwondo has re-emerged as a potentially key piece of the puzzle.

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