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China, U.S. commemorate the 50th anniversary of Ping-Pong Diplomacy

By Wu Chaolan, Dennis Meng    People's Daily Online   13:06, April 26, 2021

Photo taken on April 24, 2021 shows the venue of a special event to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Ping-Pong Diplomacy between China and the United States in Beijing, capital of China. (Xinhua/Yu Sihui)

A commemorative event themed “Friendship First, Competition Second” in celebration of the 50th anniversary of Ping-Pong Diplomacy was held at the Shougang Park in Beijing on April 24.

The event, which was co-hosted by the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries (CPAFFC), General Administration of Sport of China, and the China-US People’s Friendship Association, recollected the inspiring event one half-century ago that helped to break the ice between the two nations and usher in a fresh start in Sino-U.S. relations that still resonates up to today.

Vice-President Wang Qishan delivered an opening speech via video link, in which he highlighted that Ping-Pong Diplomacy has become a much-told story in China-U.S. relations.

It represented the wisdom and efforts put forward by leaders and personages of all circles from previous generations in both countries, an accomplishment that deserves to be doubly treasured, Wang stressed.

Noting that China-U.S. relations are now at a critical juncture, Wang remarked that, as the world’s two largest economies and permanent members of the UN Security Council, China and the U.S. should strengthen cooperation as the two “stand to gain from cooperation and lose from confrontation”. Both countries need to draw wisdom and strength from history, focus on cooperation, manage differences, and step up exchanges and cooperation in multiple areas to promote sound and stable bilateral relations, he added.

Dr. Henry Kissinger, who conducted an initial ice-breaking visit of his own to China five decades ago, shared his account of the 50-year-old event that remains fresh in his memory.

"The 50th anniversary of the invitation to the American Ping-Pong team to China marked a significant and nostalgic event," Kissinger said via a pre-recorded video, referring to the Chinese table tennis team’s decision to invite their American counterparts to China back in 1971, following the 31st World Championships in Nagoya, Japan. “The significance of the event is that a number of little steps are sometimes needed to make great conclusions,” he added.

Former table tennis players Li Furong and Liang Geliang, who witnessed Ping-Pong Diplomacy in action 50 years ago, were invited to the event. “The former U.S. president’s, Nixon’s words, were embedded in my mind that the victory belonged to the Chinese and American people,” said Li while recounting his unforgettable experience at the time.

During the event, Liang and American counterpart Judy Hoarfrost played table tennis games over 10,000 kilometers apart through a VR Ping-Pong game, which vividly demonstrated the theme of “Friendship First” as the match ended in a 2-2 tie.

“Ping-Pong diplomacy is an excellent interpretation of the Spirit of ‘Friendship first, Competition Second’ in sports,” said Lin Songtian, the president of CPAFFC, who attended the event.

“The successful practice of moving forward relationships between countries through people-to-people diplomacy and the spirit of sports could serve as a reference to reshape the Sino-U.S. relationship,” said Lin.

Athletes in other sports also attended the event, sharing their thoughts about how sports can promote cultural and people-to-people exchanges. “Sports give people an opportunity to come together,” said Stephon Marbury, a former professional basketball player and head coach of the Chinese Basketball Association’s (CBA) Beijing Royal Fighters.

“Sports competitions are like any other cultural event, in which people can get to know each other regardless of where they’re from and what language they speak,” said Yao Ming, president of the CBA. “We can make use of different kinds of social activities to enhance mutual understanding.”