The Chinese Foreign Ministry has welcomed basketball player Dennis Rodman’s fifth visit to North Korea, responding that both his presence there and the release of American citizen Otto Warmbier on Tuesday were “surely a positive move.”
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang responded to a question from a reporter who wondered whether “this move,” referring to both Rodman’s presence in North Korea and Warmbier’s release, “corresponds with China’s position to resolve the Korean nuclear issue peacefully through dialogue and consultation.”
Lu refused to speculate on whether Rodman’s visit was related to Warmbier’s release (he issued his report before the U.S. State Department confirmed that the two incidents were unrelated). “But my feeling is that this is surly [sic] a positive move,” he said, adding, “we welcome and support the US and the DPRK, as two parties directly involved in the Korean nuclear issue, in strengthening mutual understanding and mutual trust through dialogues and contacts.”
The South Korean news agency Yonhap adds that Lu stated China “consistently” supported peaceful dialogue between the two countries. China is North Korea’s largest trade partner and one of its few remaining allies on the international stage with significant diplomatic leverage. North Korea also boasts alliances with Cuba, Venezuela, Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, and some small African nations.
The Trump administration has prioritized preventing North Korea from acquiring a nuclear weapon and increased diplomatic contact with China in the hope of having the fellow communist neighbor exert a positive influence on Pyongyang.
In April, following President Xi Jinping’s visit to America, Trump said that he was willing to make “not as good a trade deal” with China of Beijing agreed to curb North Korea’s increasingly belligerent behavior. China canceled shipments of North Korean coal for the rest of 2017 that month, enforcing existing United Nations sanctions and incurring the wrath of the bellicose North Korean state media.
Rodman landed in Pyongyang on Tuesday, shortly before news of Warmbier’s release hit international news outlets.
Rodman told reporters he is on a “peace and love” mission, funded by the cannabis digital currency company PotCoin.com, but neither the company nor Rodman himself has specified what he intends to achieve in the country. Rodman has spent significant time with both dictator Kim Jong-un and President Trump in person, having organized a basketball game for the former’s birthday during his last visit to the country and competed in two seasons of Celebrity Apprentice.
Before arriving in Pyongyang from China, Rodman told reporters that he did not intend to advocate for fellow Americans taken hostage by the Kim regime. “Well that’s not my purpose right now… My purpose is to go over there and try to see if I can keep bringing sports to North Korea,” he said. He added that he believed Trump was “happy at the fact that I’m over here trying to accomplish something that we both need.”
The State Department has said they are aware of Rodman’s visit, while warning U.S. citizens against traveling to the country due to its rampant disregard for human rights and repeated arbitrary arrests of Americans.
Three Americans – Kim Hak Song, Kim Sang Duk, and Kim Dong-chul – remain hostages of the North Korean regime for a number of alleged crimes against the communist government.
In Pyongyang, Rodman told reporters, “I’m just here to see some friends and have a good time.” Rodman shook hands with North Korean Vice Minister of Sports Son Kwang, who met him at the airport. On Wednesday, Rodman “watched a women’s basketball team practice at a gym Wednesday and visited the birthplace of North Korean founder Kim Il Sung,” according to the Associated Press.