North and South Korea combine teams at table tennis worlds

Seo Hyowon, right, from South Korea and Kim Song I from North Korea react together after a press conference, in Halmstad, Sweden, Thursday, May 3, 2018, after North and South Korea combined their women’s teams at the table tennis team world championships. The International Table Tennis Federation say the neighbouring nations’ women’s team declined to play against each other in a quarterfinals match on Thursday, and will play together in the semi finals, rather than eliminate one of their teams in the quarter final. (Jonas Ekstromer/TT News Agency via AP)

HALMSTAD, Sweden — Ping pong diplomacy is bringing North and South Korea together at the table tennis world championships.

The women’s teams from the two countries, originally competing separately at the competition in Sweden, decided Thursday to combine their teams rather than play each other in the quarterfinals.

"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," ITTF president Thomas Weikert said.

The move follows intense recent cross-border diplomacy by state leaders at home. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in vowed last week to work toward the "complete denuclearization" of the Korean Peninsula.

The combined Korean team at the table tennis tournament will next play Japan in the semifinals on Friday.

"(It’s) an important statement to promote peace between our countries through table tennis," the South Korean team said.

In March, North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho made a surprise visit to Sweden to meet with Sweden’s foreign minister, Margot Wallstrom. After three days of talks, they said they discussed the "opportunities and challenges for continued diplomatic efforts to reach a peaceful solution" to the Koreas’ security dispute.

"I welcome the announcement that North and South Korean table tennis teams have decided to form a joint team during the world championship in Sweden," Wallstrom wrote on Twitter.

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