North and South Korean Athletes to March Under Unified Flag for Second Time This Year

Jason Lemon

North and South Korean athletes will march under a unified flag for the second time this year during the Asian Games at the end of summer.

The Asian Games will take place in Indonesia from August 18 to September 2. On Monday, the two Koreas agreed to present their teams in a united procession at the opening and closing of the international sporting tournament, while also forming “a unified team for some sports events,” according to South Korean news agency Yonhap.

The two nations’ teams will enter under a white flag with a blue image of the Korean Peninsula. Instead of playing either country’s national anthem as they enter the stadium, the athletes will march to a traditional Korean folk song, "Arirang."

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North Korean cheerleaders hold Unified Korea flags during the women's preliminary round ice hockey match between Sweden and Unified Korea during the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympic Games at the Kwandong Hockey Centre in Gangneung on February 12, 2018 ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images

The Koreas also plan to host a friendly basketball tournament on July 4, with male and female players from both sides of the demilitarized zone coming together to compete in Pyongyang. A follow-up match will take place in Seoul in the fall.

“The South and North agreed to hold the South-North unification basketball games on the occasion of July 4 in Pyongyang and that Seoul will host games in the autumn,” a joint press statement released following Monday’s talks said, NK News reported.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un reportedly suggested the basketball game during previous talks in April. Kim is known to be an avid basketball fan and a good friend of retired American NBA star Dennis Rodman.

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Sokeel Park, the South Korea Country Director for the nonprofit organization Liberty in North Korea, told Newsweek that while sports matches won't change the situation over night, such moves are positive steps for the peninsula.

"Every opportunity for North Korean people to interact with and be exposed to the outside world should be taken," Park said. "The more North Korean people get exposed to South Korean people and culture, levels of prosperity and openness, the more North Korea will change for the benefit of all of us."

Although this isn’t the first time the Koreas have held friendly basketball competitions, it will be the first match since October 2003. The countries also hosted a so-called “unification basketball tournament” back in 1999.

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Activists place an unofficial unified Korea flag on a wall in front of the Consulate General of the Republic of Korea building in Los Angeles, California on June 8, 2018, where Korean-Americans and their supporters gathered in a call for peace and a formal end to the Korean War, replacing the 1953 armistice with a permanent peace treaty, ahead of the June 12 summit between the leaders of the US and North Korea FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images

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In February, North and South Korea also marched together at the opening of the 2018 Winter Olympic Games under a unified flag, signaling a thaw in tensions between the two nations that technically remain at war. They also formed a joint women’s hockey team during the winter games.

“As we all witnessed during the PyeongChang Winter Olympics, sports gave a chance to initiate better inter-Korean relations,” said Jeon Choong-ryul, secretary general of the Korean Sport and Olympic Committee, Channel News Asia reported.

The Koreas have been holding landmark talks on improving historically tense relations since South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in took office last year. Contrary to the positions of his impeached and imprisoned predecessor, Park Geun-hye, Moon campaigned on policies of peace and reunification.

Prior to the historic Singapore summit between Kim and President Donald Trump last week, Moon and Kim also held a meeting at the end of April. Both Kim and Moon met at the border, symbolically taking turns stepping across the line dividing their countries.

This article was first written by Newsweek

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