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Asian Games: North, S. Koreans compete together for 1st time

Combined Koreas Kang Leeseul, centre, looks for support during their women's basketball match against Indonesia at the 18th Asian Games in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Aug. 15, 2018. (AP Photo/Tatan Syuflana)

JAKARTA (Kyodo) -- North and South Korean athletes played on the same team Wednesday for the first time at the Asian Games, the world's biggest multisport event after the Olympics, amid ongoing reconciliation efforts.

In its debut match at the Asian Games, a women's basketball team comprised of players from the two Koreas, wearing the same white uniform, smashed host nation Indonesia 108-40 ahead of the official opening of the quadrennial meet on Saturday.

Every time the team scored, the venue in Jakarta was filled with passionate claps and cheers synchronized with loud drum-beating sounds from about 100 Korean fans wearing shirts with the unification flag on the front.

As requested by South Korea, the defending Asian Games women's basketball champions, North Korea contributed three players -- center Ro Suk Yong, guard Kim Hye Yon and guard Jang Mi Gyong -- to the 12-member roster for the five-on-five event.

The 1.8-meter tall center was a shining star in the preliminary game, scoring a game-high 22 points in about 26 minutes before she was replaced by another player.

"We can all communicate as we are all Korean people. We have a strong desire (to win) and we all came together," Lee Moon Kyu, coach of the unified team, told reporters following the resounding victory. "Even though it was a short time to make the chemistry, it still worked."

The players met each other for a friendly game in Pyongyang in early July and reunited at a training center near Seoul this month before coming to Jakarta.

Despite no tangible progress being made over North Korea's denuclearization, the country has continued using sports diplomacy from the beginning of this year to reach out to the rest of the world.

In a virtual repetition of the joint women's ice hockey team at February's Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, they have also formed combined teams under the title of Korea in canoeing and rowing at the Asian Games, which will run through Sept. 2 in Jakarta and Palembang.

Until the Winter Olympics in the South Korean city, the two countries had never competed as a single nation in multisport events.

However, they had previously fielded unified teams in international table tennis and soccer tournaments. For the first time since the Korean Peninsula was split after World War II, both sides competed jointly as Korea at the 1991 world tennis championships in Japan.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, known as a keen basketball fan, held his first meetings with the leaders of China, South Korea and the United States this year after expressing hopes for improved inter-Korean relations in his New Year's address.

Just two days before the basketball match, the two Koreas agreed to hold what would be the third meeting between their current leaders sometime in September.

The meeting between Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae In is scheduled to be held in Pyongyang. If realized, it will be the first time in more than a decade for an inter-Korean summit to take place in the North Korean capital.

The upcoming meeting comes as the international community has expressed concern about the lack of concrete steps taken by North Korea since Kim's pledge to denuclearize during his summit with U.S. President Donald Trump in mid-June in Singapore.

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