Trump: ‘Ter­rific’ Xi work­ing to re­lease play­ers

The Phnom Penh Post - - SPORT -

US PRES­I­DENT Don­ald Trump yes­ter­day said that he per­son­ally asked Chi­nese leader Xi Jin­ping to in­ter­vene on be­half of three US col­lege bas­ket­ball play­ers ar­rested in China for a l l e g e d s h o p l i f t i n g a n d ex­pressed hope they would soon be sent home.

Trump told re­porters he brought up the case in talks with Xi dur­ing his two-day state visit to Bei­jing last week.

“He was ter­rific, and they’re work­ing on it right now. And hope­fully ev­ery­thing is go­ing to work out,” Trump told re­porters aboard Air Force One af­ter leav­ing the Philip­pines, at the con­clu­sion of his five­na­tion tour of Asia.

“But that was not a good sub­ject. That was not some­thing that should have hap­pened,” Trump added, call­ing it a “very, very rough sit­u­a­tion with what hap­pened to them”, pro­vid­ing no de­tails.

UCLA player LiAn­gelo Ball – the younger brother of Los An­ge­les Lak­ers rookie star Lonzo Ball – and team­mates Cody Ri­ley and Jalen Hill were ar re s t e d l as t Tues­day i n Hangzhou ahead of their reg­u­lar-sea­son open­ing game against Georgia Tech in nearby Shang­hai at the week­end.

ESPN re­ported that they were held on sus­pi­cion of steal­ing from a Louis Vuit­ton store and later freed on bail but or­dered to re­main in Hangzhou.

The US sports net­work, which had a re­porter trav­el­ling with the teams, quoted sources say­ing au­thor­i­ties had sur­veil­lance footage of the al­leged crimes.

“What they did was un­for­tu­nate. You know, you’re talk­ing about very long prison sen- tences. [ The Chi­nese au­thor­i­ties] do not play games,” Trump said.

Shoplift­ing can bring jail time in China de­pend­ing on the value of the goods.

But the like­li­hood of China throw­ing the book at the trio was prob­a­bly low, with the lead­ers of the world’s two big­gest economies keen to make nice for the state visit.

Asked whether the play­ers would soon be com­ing home, Trump said: “I hope so. I hope so.”

The UCLA and Georgia Tech squads were in Hangzhou for a side trip to the head­quar­ters of Chi­nese e-com­merce gi­ant Alibaba.

UCLA won Satur­day’s game in Shang­hai 63-60 with­out the three play­ers. The rest of the team flew home after­wards.

The Wash­ing­ton Post, quot- ing un­named US of­fi­cials, had re­ported ear­lier yes­ter­day that Trump learned about the de­tails of the case from aides, in­clud­ing his Chief of Staff John Kelly.

Xi promised to look into the case and en­sure the play­ers are treated fairly and ex­pe­di­tiously, the pa­per quoted an of­fi­cial say­ing.

Kelly re­mains in touch with the player’s fam­i­lies and with Chi­nese au­thor­i­ties, adding that charges against the play­ers had been re­duced and the case was pro­ceed­ing to­ward a res­o­lu­tion, the Post re­ported.

The US and Chi­nese govern­ments have de­clined to re­lease any in­for­ma­tion on the play­ers’ where­abouts and sta­tus, prob­a­bly due to the diplo­matic sen­si­tiv­i­ties.

Be­sides co­in­cid­ing with Trump’s visit, the case has raised waves in the United States due to the in­volve­ment of LiAn­gelo Ball, one of three high-pro­file bas­ket­ball-play­ing sons of LaVar Ball.

The el­der Ball has be­come a me­dia per­son­al­ity by ag­gres­sively pro­mot­ing his sons as fu­ture NBA su­per­stars and had trav­elled to China on the trip to pro­mote his Big Baller Brand shoe and ap­parel line.

AFP

US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump (left) shakes hands with Chi­nese leader Xi Jin­ping at the Great Hall of the Peo­ple on Thurs­day dur­ing a trip to Bei­jing last week.

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