Former basketball star Yao Ming on Monday invited staunch Beijing critic Enes Kanter Freedom to visit China after the Boston Celtics player urged athletes to boycott the Winter Olympics in the capital.
Kanter has emerged as one of China’s most vocal critics in the sporting world, a rare athlete willing to forgo lucrative endorsements to speak on issues such as Beijing’s treatment of its Uyghur Muslim and Tibetan minorities.
He has repeatedly spoken out on social media and been a guest on Western news shows as the Olympics nears.
In recent interviews, he has accused China of using “money to buy silence” and called on other athletes “to pick morals over money”.
He also said the diplomatic boycott of the upcoming Games by the United States, Britain and Australia was “good, but not enough”.
Yao, China’s most famous basketball star and one of its Olympic bid ambassadors, was asked about Kanter’s politics at a press gathering in Beijing on Monday.
“I’ve heard of him, but I can’t really judge him because I don’t know him,” the retired Houston Rockets player and current president of the China Basketball Association said.
“If there is an opportunity, I would like to invite him to visit China… Then he may have a more comprehensive understanding of us.”
Chinese officials have previously invited foreign journalists and diplomats to take part in state-arranged tours to Xinjiang to counter claims by human rights groups and Washington that a genocide is being carried out against Uyghurs and other Turkic minorities, including forced labor in factories and internment camps where detainees have allegedly suffered torture and sexual abuse.
But foreign reporters regularly encounter interference, surveillance and even detention by police and unidentified individuals while attempting to report from the ground in Xinjiang.
Kanter was raised in Turkey where the plight of China’s Uyghurs is closely followed. He is also a vocal critic of Turkey’s autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
He added “Freedom” to his name late last year when he gained US citizenship.
China suspended domestic broadcasts of NBA games for a year after Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted in support of Hong Kong democracy protesters in 2019. The country is by far the NBA’s largest overseas market.
More recently, the Women’s Tennis Association suspended all its China tournaments over concerns about the safety of Chinese player Peng Shuai, who accused a former Communist Party leader of sexual assault.