Can “Table Tennis Diplomacy” bring the United States and China back together?

A woman holds two oars: US President Richard Nixon to the left, and Mao Zedong, the then leader of China, to the right.AP image

Yellow, purple, and green globes shine along the edge of the gym. In the middle there are two table tennis tables. Encouraged by a group of enthusiastic kids, American and Chinese players chase a ping pong ball across the net. The teams play in blue and red shirts, but they are mixed.

A viewer joked that if the Americans had to play against the Chinese, they would have been totally destroyed. This is not the intention, as friendly parties aim to commemorate how the sympathetic ping-pong game heated relations between the two countries fifty years ago.

Pingpong Museum

In detail, the photos, medals, and table tennis rackets at the Ping Pong Museum in Shanghai mark the beginning of mutual relations. Or, “How did the small ball get the big ball,” as then Chinese Prime Minister Zhou Enlai described it.

At the end of the World Table Tennis Championships in Japan, in April 1971, the Chinese team invited American players to visit China. The visit began on April 10 and lasted eight days, during which the players trained together, visited tourist attractions, and were often photographed together and with Prime Minister Chu. It was the first time since the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949 that a group of Americans had been guests in China.

The photos show what should have been a grueling trip, as the American players visited Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou within a week. At Shanghai Airport, the group stands in front of a statue of Mao Zedong. An American holds a poster with a picture of the Great Burial Man.

Paddle Force

Pingpong has brought the West closer to anonymous communist China. A year later, US President Nixon visited Chu Enlai, and Henry Kissinger followed suit and the talks began, which in 1979 culminated in formal diplomatic relations between the two countries.

“Happy Ping Pong” is written on a sign near the table tennis tables. A screen in the lobby of the museum reads “Friendship first, competition second.” The ‘Paddle Force‘, Tennis power, according to the Chinese, is the best way to melt frozen relationships – and also allow China to excel at table tennis. In recent decades, every lamp has been used to commemorate table tennis diplomacy and to show off another delegation of American table tennis players across China.

The First Hour players were awarded the official title of “Witnesses to Table Tennis Diplomacy”. Before the younger generation starts their social media sites, witnesses are called to the stage. Amid the dramatic music, seniors of fit receive bags containing a breakfast plate-sized commemorative medal and pingpong cartons. The Americans, prevented by the epidemic, are represented by US Consul General James Heller.

Chinese Ambassador to Washington, Cui Tiankai, said in a video message that human relations have always been the lubricant in the relationship between China and the United States. The fact that this relationship is now under such pressure, he says, is not China’s fault. “Some on the American side are obsessed with ideological bias and Total zero-Think, keep creating obstacles to our human exchange. ”

Among the compliments, the ambassador’s criticism makes it clear that the time is remote.

Cardiac band

It’s not as black and white as it was in 1971. Americans and Chinese know more about each other’s country than they know at the time. Interests are intertwined, connections are more intense, problems standing in the way of a warm relationship are more complex and concrete. In 1971, in a world divided, China was an ally of the Soviet Union, the American enemy. Now China itself is the enemy, and it is much stronger than it was then. What is the power of a “paddle”?

Smiling, the American Heller spooned some compliments in the crowded room. Coy’s contribution was even more fierce – possibly because US politicians last week suggested that the United States might boycott the Beijing Olympics in February 2022 in protest of human rights violations in China.

Fifty years ago, allowing opponents to play a sporting game to bring political issues to debate had turned out to be a success. Later, the strategy was also pulled from the closet – again this summer at the controversial football tournament in Qatar. After all, anyone who stands by the boycott cannot change anything, as they say.

No policy

China – always ready for a table tennis match – puts the ball in Americans’ hands. “We hope the US side will remove the obstacles as soon as possible so that exchanges and cooperation can be resumed,” Cui said. But Beijing is not saying its plans to remove obstacles from the Chinese side. China’s borders are closed to foreigners, in part due to the epidemic. It may open its doors again to Olympic athletes next year, but that will take a long time.

At the Ping Pong Museum, a ping pong ball bounces over the tables. Here he is politically away and remains fun. Players happily wave their paddles – the Chinese players are clearly holding back.

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