A joint North-South Korean football World Cup - a diplomatic fantasy? | Asia| An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW | 19.06.2017
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A joint North-South Korean football World Cup - a diplomatic fantasy?

S. Korean President Moon has proposed that Pyongyang and Seoul lead a collaborative East Asian FIFA World Cup in 2030. Experts don't believe this friendly gesture will convince Kim to play ball. Julian Ryall reports.

Newly elected South Korean president Moon Jae-in wants North and South Korea to cooperate with other nations in Northeast Asia to host the 2030 FIFA World Cup. While a Korean World Cup could build bridges and promote peace in the region, analysts suggest that Moon Jae-in's latest olive branch to North Korea is unlikely to ever bear fruit.

Moon suggested the idea during a meeting on June 12 with Gianni Infantino, president of FIFA, and asked if the organization that oversees world football would be able to help move the idea forward.

"If East Asian countries, including the two Koreas, host the World Cup, I believe this will help to ease tensions on the Korean Peninsula as well as in the entire region," South Korean media quoted Moon as saying.

Infantino was in Seoul to attend the closing ceremony of the FIFA Under-20 World Cup and reportedly said that he respected Moon's vision for peace through sport. He added that he would convey the suggestion to Xi Jinping, the Chinese president, during his subsequent visit to Beijing.

Read: FIFA Council approves expansion of World Cup to 48 teams as of 2026

Any diplomacy will do

The proposal is the latest effort by the recently installed South Korean leader to open channels for dialogue with the North in areas that are not directly related to security or political issues and may have a better chance at succeeding.

Moon's administration had previously hinted that it would be open to discussing the resumption of South Korean tourism to the Mount Kumgang resort in North Korea.

Tourism to the resort began in 2002 but was abruptly halted in 2008 when a South Korean tourist was shot dead by a North Korean guard. Seoul has also granted approval for NGOs to travel to the North to deliver medicine and agricultural pesticides.

There have even been suggestions that Moon would be willing to consider reopening the Kaesong Industrial Park, which lies 10 kilometers north of the Demilitarized Zone that divides the two nations. It was closed in February 2016 after North Korea carried out a hydrogen bomb test the previous month.

'Moonshine' policy

Südkorea Präsidentschaftswahl Gewinner Moon Jae-in (Reuters/S. Myeong-gon /Yonhap)

S. Korean President Moon has been trying to foster diplomacy with the North

To date, the North has rebuffed all cooperative approaches from the South. Analysts say the regime of Kim Jong-un is feeling more powerful and less in need of talks with its neighbors because its economy is recovering. Kim has also solidified his control over the nation and the young dictator feels that recent nuclear and missile tests have demonstrated that the country can no longer be overlooked.

"Moon is clearly trying to open up a broader range of areas over which the two nations might be able to communicate and is generally trying to create better conditions for his version of the 'sunshine policy' of previous administrations," Stephen Nagy, a senior associate professor of international relations at Tokyo's International Christian University, told DW.

Nagy added that the proposal seemed unrealistic because it would require supporting the Kim regime.

"I cannot see something like this being supported by outside players as it would require a great deal of investment in the infrastructure of North Korea - railways, airports, stadiums, hotels, restaurants and everything else - and there would be significant opposition on the grounds that any investment would be effectively supporting the North Korean regime."

Robert Dujarric, director of the Institute of Contemporary Asian Studies at the Tokyo campus of Temple University, told DW that the South Korean leader's "moonshine policy" is based on the belief that he can engage with the North, "although the jury is still out on whether that is possible," he said.

"This offer is symbolic more than anything," he said. "I think there is a far higher likelihood of FIFA awarding the tournament to China, which is emerging as an economic power and would be appealing to FIFA as a new host nation."

A prestige contest

Bildergalerie Asien Spiele 2014 in Incheon Südkorea (Reuters/Kim Hong-Ji)

North Korea's national football team at the 2014 Asian games in S. Korea

There has been no official comment from the North in reply to the proposal to host the 2030 World Cup. But the event could appeal to Kim on a personal level as he is known to be a fan of sports and the image of the World Cup could be harnessed by state-run media to increase his domestic prestige on the world stage.

Shortly after he inherited the dictatorship from his father in December 2011, Kim ordered the expansion of the Mirim Riding Club and the construction of a "world-class" ski resort at the Masik Pass Skiing Ground that would rival the winter sports facilities being built in South Korea to host the 2018 Winter Olympic Games.

Dennis Rodman, the former NBA star, last week spent several days in Pyongyang and previously organized a demonstration match between a team of NBA players and the North Korean national basketball team.

The North's rivalry with the South was very evident in the run-up to South Korea and Japan jointly hosting the World Cup in 2002. The normally reticent regime opened up to foreign journalists and put on a number of cultural and sporting events. This included a oversized version of the Arirang mass gymnastic and artistic performance at the Rungrado May Day Stadium.

Football has become one of the most popular sports in South Korea. The game received a major boost when the nation jointly hosted the 2002 FIFA World Cup with Japan. It was the first time the finals had been shared between two nations. South Korea went all the way to the semi-finals before losing to Germany.

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