Fifty years on, Ping-Pong Diplomacy” still works to promote China-U.S. ties

Chinese and American table tennis players compete in a friendly game held in the Capital Indoor Stadium, Beijing, April 13, 1971. (Photo by Qian Jiang/People’s Daily Online)

Fifty years on, “Ping-Pong Diplomacy” is still remembered and consolidating the friendship between the Chinese and American peoples.

On April 24, a commemorative event marking the 50th anniversary of “Ping-Pong Diplomacy” was held at the Shougang Park, Beijing.

It was attended by friendly personage from the diplomatic, sports, culture, education and economic sectors of the two countries, both physically and via video link, which paid tribute to the great historic event and renewed the friendship between the Chinese and American peoples. They hoped to enhance the bilateral people-to-people and cultural exchanges and promote healthy development China-U.S. relations.

The commemorative event was jointly hosted by the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries (CPAFFC), China’s General Administration of Sport and China-U.S. People’s Friendship Association.

During the event, a VR ping-pong game was jointly presented by septuagenarian Liang Geliang, a former world champion from China, and Judy Hoarfrost, who has been inducted into the U.S. Table Tennis Hall of Fame.

Seemly, the match between the two athletes, both of whom witnessed the historic event of “Ping-Pong Diplomacy” 50 years ago, ended in a 2-2 tie, corresponding to the catchword “Friendship First, Competition Second.”

Pictures of the wonderful moments of Chinese and American table tennis teams communicating with each other in 1971 were exhibited on a big screen of the Shougang Park, bringing a sense of nostalgia to everyone present.

Fifty years ago, table tennis started the friendship between the Chinese and American peoples, and initiated the normalization of China-U.S. relations. Today, “Ping-Pong Diplomacy” is still of practical significance.

Late Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai once said when receiving the visiting U.S. table tennis team that the visit opened the door to the friendly exchanges between the Chinese and American peoples, adding that the friendship between the two peoples would be endorsed and supported by most of the people in the two countries.

Li Furong, a world table tennis champion and former deputy of China’s General Administration of Sport, recalled the 1972 return trip to the U.S. He cited what the then U.S. President Richard Nixon said when receiving the Chinese delegation – despite there being winners and losers in their table tennis tournament, the real winner “will be the friendship between the people of the United States and the people of the People’s Republic of China.”

As a matter of fact, Liang and Hoarfrost, the youngest athletes of the Chinese and American delegations back then, have maintained their friendship for half a century.

“On every commemorative event, we would play a game, as a way to enhance our friendship,” Liang said. What the table tennis promotes is not only China-U.S. relations, but also the communication of all people around the world.

Liu Guoliang, the Chinese Table Tennis Association (CTTA) President, heard about “Ping-Pong Diplomacy” as a child, and is now carrying the relay baton. “This is an honor passed on from our former generations,” he said.

He believes that for both Chinese and American peoples, exchanges and cooperation shall be carried out in every aspect. “The two countries stand to gain from cooperation and lose from confrontation. This is indisputable,” he told People’s Daily.

The seeds of friendship sowed by the young athletes from China and the U.S. back then have now become gigantic fruits in cultural exchanges and regional cooperation. China remained the largest source of international students in the U.S. for 11 consecutive years, and the four major professional sports leagues in the U.S. are also seeking business opportunities in China. At present, there are 50 pairs of sister provinces/states and 232 pairs of sister cities between the two countries.

American basketball player Stephon Marbury has lived in China for over 10 years and developed a profound friendship with the Chinese people. He said without the icebreaking “Ping-Pong Diplomacy,” there could’ve been no opportunity for him to come so close to the Chinese culture and people.

He believes that “Ping-Pong Diplomacy” still has its significance today, and the people from the two countries shall get closer with each other and eliminate misunderstanding and enhance friendship through cultural exchanges.

In a video message to the event, former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who witnessed and promoted the development of China-U.S. ties, says that the 50th anniversary of the invitation to the American ping-pong team to China marked a significant and nostalgic event.

“Ping-Pong Diplomacy” now reflects hope for the future of China-U.S. ties as the two countries have significant differences on major issues, he says in the video, adding that “It is that peoples of China and the U.S. can reach an understanding about the importance of the two countries in the world pattern and economy.” He expects that the two countries can work together to build a world order that is conducive to global peace and prosperity.

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