Australian basketballer Andrew Vlahov has revealed plans involving one of the sport's tallest players to fuel a relationship between WA and China beyond trade links.
Vlahov said yesterday that he had a five-year deal with the Shanghai Sports Bureau that would enable young WA athletes and potential future Olympians to take part in the Friendship Games in China in July.
He will also host 229cm Chinese basketball legend Yao Ming, one of the world's most recognisable athletes, at the Cable Beach Invitational in Broome next week. Yao attended last year's inaugural event.
The retired former NBA superstar's team, the Shanghai Sharks, will play the Perth Wildcats, Singapore Slingers and Zhejiang Guangsha Lions.
Tourism Minister Kim Hames said the tournament, which is supported through Eventscorp, would provide exposure for Broome and also help strengthen WA's links with China and Singapore.
Vlahov discussed his plans at a private dinner in Perth last week attended by Prime Minister Julia Gillard.
The plans include expanding official sporting, educational and cultural links to five more Chinese provinces and to Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore, and possibly Qatar and India, by 2014.
"We've blazed a trail, but it is only the beginning," Vlahov said. "We need to create an atmosphere where people realise that we can grow our identity as a city and a State in a fantastic way in Asia.
"We talk about vibrancy, but we need to do more to create things that are fresh and proactive for the State. We have to build the imagery of Perth and WA into Asia because we just aren't on the radar there yet."
Vlahov said the Friendship Games, which attracted 68 Shanghai athletes, coaches and officials to a test event in Perth in January, had the potential for growth.
WA's contingent to travel to China next year will include several State sporting associations.
"We should take the lead and enable our youth to participate in sports, music, art and academic pursuits with our Asian neighbours," Vlahov said.
"This will lead to better understanding and a deeper relationship with our most important partners."