| Former U.S. professional basketball star Dennis Rodman left for North Korea via China on Thursday on his third trip to Pyongyang. He is the first foreigner likely to have a meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un since last week`s purge and execution of Jang Song Thaek, his once-powerful uncle.
The former NBA star his company of four or five arrived at Beijing`s Capital International Airport around noon to transfer to a 2:05 p.m. Air Koryo flight. Asked about his plan with the North Korean leader, Rodman told reporters: "I know (Kim) is waiting for me to come back. So hopefully we will have some conversation about some things that`s going to help the world."
Asked about he would say about Jang, Rodman said, "I have got nothing to do with that." When asked whether he still thinks that Kim Jong Un is a good friend, Rodman said, "So far, I know. So good."
Rodman plans to stay in Pyongyang for five days to train a North Korean basketball team. He also plans to return to Pyongyang on January 6 next year for a friendly match between a U.S. basketball team and the North Korean one on January 8, Kim Jong Un`s birthday.
According to the Britain-based online betting company Paddy Power, which sponsors Rodman`s trip, the January 2014 friendly game is billed the "The Big Bang in Pyongyang." Former NBA players will play against a North Korean squad
In Washington earlier this week, the U.S. State Department downplayed the trip as Rodman`s "personal trip" without restricting his visit. However, some argue that the U.S. administration expressed quite strong support for the trip.
In a telephone interview the Dong-A Ilbo, one of Rodman`s company on his second trip to Pyongyang in September, said after returning to the U.S. that members of the company met with Washington officials to brief on the results of their visit and that the officials expressed support, saying they had no reason to object to civilian contacts with the North.
Many observers say that the U.S. administration has nothing to lose from Rodman`s close relationship with the North Korean leader.
Daniel Pinkston, a senior analyst at the International Crisis Group who is known to have consulted on Rodman`s past visits to Pyongyang, proposed basketball diplomacy involving Rodman in his contribution to a British daily The Guardian. He suggested setting up a "basketball development foundation" involving some former NBA players and inviting North Korean basketball teams to friendly matches in Sydney, Vancouver, Hong Kong or other places. "I would even suggest a game at the joint security area in Panmunjom between a Korean people`s army team and other national military teams, along with a game featuring mixed teams and players from the North Korean national team and NBA players," he wrote.
Alexander Liebreich, the conductor of the Munich Chamber Orchestra, who is the first foreigner to serve as guest professor at North Korea`s Pyongyang University of Music and Dance, said in a telephone conversation with the Dong-A Ilbo that the more North Korea is rigid and oppressed on the outside, the more purity and longing for communication it seems to have, indicating that continued civilian exchanges have strong impacts on the North.
However, some criticize that Rodman`s visits to the North are used for Pyongyang`s propagandas and fill its coffers.