BEIJING — North Korea is awaiting another visit by former NBA bad boy Dennis Rodman on Tuesday in what would be his first to the country since President Donald Trump took office.
Wearing sunglasses and a black T-shirt advertising a marijuana cybercurrency, Rodman passed through immigration at Beijing airport, from where he is expected to fly to Pyongyang, the North Korean capital.
Rodman has received the red-carpet treatment on each of his past visits but has been roundly criticized for doing so during a time of high tensions between the U.S. and North Korea over its weapons programs.
His entourage included Joseph Terwilliger, a professor who has accompanied Rodman on previous trips to North Korea.
Rodman’s T-shirt advertised PotCoin, one of a growing number of cybercurrencies used to buy and sell marijuana in state-regulated markets.
— Dennis Rodman (@dennisrodman) June 13, 2017
In Tokyo, a visiting senior U.S. official said his government is aware of Rodman’s trip and wishes him well.
“Dennis Rodman is a private citizen. We are aware of his visit. We wish him well, but we have issued travel warnings to Americans suggested they not travel to North Korea for their own safety,” U.S. Undersecretary of State Thomas Shannon told reporters.
In 2014, Rodman arranged a basketball game with other former NBA players and North Koreans and regaled leader Kim Jong Un with a rendition of “Happy Birthday.” On the same trip, he suggested an American missionary was at fault for his own imprisonment in North Korea, remarks for which he later apologized.
A foreign ministry official who spoke to the AP in Pyongyang confirmed Rodman was expected to arrive Tuesday but could not provide details. He spoke on condition of anonymity because the ministry had not issued a formal statement. CNN reported earlier that Rodman was at the Beijing airport.
Any visit by a high-profile American is a political minefield and Rodman has been criticized for failing to use his influence on leaders who are otherwise isolated diplomatically from the rest of the world.
Americans are regarded as enemies in North Korea since the two countries never signed a peace treaty to formally end the 1950-53 Korean War. Thousands of U.S. troops are based in South Korea, and the Demilitarized Zone between the North and South is one of the most heavily fortified borders in the world.
North Korea has been hailed by marijuana news outlets and British tabloids as a pothead paradise and maybe even the next Amsterdam of pot tourism. But the claim that marijuana is legal in North Korea is not true: The penal code lists it as a controlled substance in the same category as cocaine and heroin.