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China's Yao Ming visits North Korea during basketball exchange

By
Elizabeth Shim
Former Houston Rockets center Yao Ming was seen in North Korea this week. File Photo by Lori Shepler/UPI
Former Houston Rockets center Yao Ming was seen in North Korea this week. File Photo by Lori Shepler/UPI | License Photo

Oct. 10 (UPI) -- Two Chinese basketball teams visited North Korea this week with a delegation that included former NBA All-Star Yao Ming.

Korean Workers' Party newspaper Rodong Sinmun reported Tuesday Yao and Chinese athletes visited Pyongyang on Monday, a sign China and North Korea are drawing closer ahead of a possible fourth summit between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Kim Jong Un.

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Kim is an ardent basketball fan, and previously invited NBA Hall-of-Famer Dennis Rodman to Pyongyang.

Yao was photographed on Monday, accepting flowers from his North Korean hosts at Pyongyang International Airport.

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The former Houston Rockets center was welcomed with a banquet and dined with North Korea official Ri Chang Gun, the deputy director of the central committee of the Workers' Party, according to South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo.

Jaewoo Choo, a professor of Chinese foreign policy at Kyung Hee University in Seoul, told the Chosun it is likely the next Xi-Kim summit will take place after Kim meets with Trump.

"The Chinese Communist Party could meet in late October or early November, so it is less likely Xi will visit North Korea around that time," Choo said.

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Minister of the General Administration of Sports of China Gou Zhongwen said his delegation's visit will "strengthen bilateral friendship and promote exchange in the field of physical education."

"The friendly matches will bring joy to the [North] Korean people on the 74th anniversary of the founding of the ruling Workers' Party of Korea," Gou told the North Koreans this week.

Top North Korean officials attended the games at Ryugyong Jong Ju Yong Gymnasium, including Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho, who watched women basketball players of both countries compete in mixed teams.

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The central committee of the Chinese Communist Party sent flowers to their North Korean counterparts to mark the anniversary, the Rodong reported Wednesday.

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