NEW YORK -- General manager Brian Cashman will not rule out the possibility that, a few years down the road, he could be sending a promising Chinese prospect to the Gulf Coast League in Florida.

The clock on such a scenario officially started on Monday, as the Yankees and the Chinese Baseball Association (CBA) held a press conference in Beijing to announce a strategic alliance. The Yankees are the first Major League team to hold such a partnership in China.

"The entire New York Yankees organization looks forward to a wonderful relationship with the Chinese Baseball Association," principal owner George Steinbrenner said in a statement. "I stand firmly behind this agreement, and we will lend our full support to this partnership to ensure a successful and fruitful future together."

The CBA will receive the Yankees' guidance in training baseball players. As the Yanks outlined in a New York press briefing last week, the arrangement will allow the club to exchange coaches, player development, scouting and training personnel between China and the club's facilities in the U.S.

Cashman and team president Randy Levine headed a contingent of Yankees brass that was invited to China following an estimated six months of discussions.

Jean Afterman, assistant GM, and Michael Tusiani, vice president of corporate sales and sponsorship, also made the trip. The CBA was represented by Chairman Hu Jianguo, Secretary General Shen Wei and Deputy Secretary General Tian Yuan.

"This agreement marks another milestone in baseball's international evolution," Levine said. "We are excited to begin work alongside our friends in the Chinese Baseball Association, and they will receive our full support throughout this exciting process."

"Baseball is a fast-growing sport in China and throughout Asia," Jianguo said. "By partnering with the New York Yankees, [the] most successful and recognizable baseball team in the world, the CBA looks forward to expanding the play of this wonderful game throughout China and developing many excellent players. We also look forward to developing world-class training and practice facilities where our Chinese players can be well prepared to compete against the best in the world."

It is believed that creating and developing talent in China, with a population of more than 1.3 billion, could turn the country into one of baseball's next great frontiers.

Baseball in Chinese is still considered to be in its infancy, as soccer and basketball are among the dominant sports in the current landscape. The agreement could precipitate a heavier introduction to baseball, particularly with young athletes.

"Throughout China's history, it's easy to see their passion for sports and their determination to excel in all athletic fields," Cashman said. "With that belief in excellence, we are proud to begin work with the Chinese Baseball Association, and we will provide all of our available tools and resources to help develop and cultivate their baseball program from the ground up."

Levine has said that he believes the international recognition of the Yankees name played a major role in prompting the invitation from the CBA.

"The Yankees brand is recognized around the world," Levine said, "and this unprecedented opportunity allows us to further integrate the Yankees' name and our proud history of success into baseball's global landscape."

With their seven-day Asia trip in progress, the contingent plans to spend several days in China -- the Great Wall is set for one sightseeing excursion -- before moving on to Japan.

In Japan the Yankees plan to meet with the senior management of Yomiuri Shimbun, owners of the Yomiuri Giants. The Yankees also will visit with the leadership of the Hanshin Tigers, thanking the club for their assistance in the acquisition of left-hander Kei Igawa in December.