Basketball turned out to be a common language that brought two leaders closer together as President Xi Jinping and his Philippine counterpart, Rodrigo Duterte, attended the opening ceremony of the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 in Beijing on Friday night.

The two presidents watched a cultural performance shortly after Xi announced the opening of the basketball tournament.

The event came as Duterte is on a five-day visit to China that started on Wednesday. This is his fifth visit to China since he took office in 2016, with the last one taking place four months ago when he attended the second Belt & Road Forum for International Cooperation in Beijing.

When they met each other on Thursday, Xi called Duterte an “old friend”, and told him that bilateral ties have seen a turnaround, have been consolidated and lifted up and have continuously achieved tangible outcomes over the past three years.

Basketball is an extremely popular sport in the Philippines, played on both the amateur and professional levels.

As part of the schedule for his China visit, Duterte — accompanied by Vice-President Wang Qishan — will watch the match between the Philippine and Italian teams to be held in Foshan, Guangdong province, on Saturday night.

Before the opening ceremony, Xi also met with Horacio Muratore, president of the International Basketball Federation, or FIBA.

Xi said that China attaches great importance to the development of basketball, a sport that continues to grow in popularity in the country. He added that the nation has been actively involved in basketball and supports FIBA, and its efforts to promote the sport worldwide.

Xi told Muratore that great achievements have been made in sports in the nation since the People’s Republic of China was founded 70 years ago.

Saying sound development of sports represents both part of a nation’s strength and also a part of the healthy and happy lives of the people, Xi added that China is striving to build itself into a global sports power.

The nation stands ready to continue to develop cooperation with FIBA so as to popularize and improve the development level of basketball in China, Xi said.

Muratore thanked Xi for China’s long-term support for FIBA and appreciated it for its outstanding preparations for the hosting of the event.

FIBA considers cooperation with China as highly important, Muratore said, and it is willing to make contributions to promoting basketball activities in China.