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Ping-Pong Diplomacy: 2019 edition

By LIU YINMENG in Los Angeles | China Daily Global | Updated: 2019-08-12 23:08

Chinese table tennis players pose for a photo during the UCLA Sport Hall of Fame Tour in California. MATT HETHERINGTON / FOR CHINA DAILY

A delegation consisting of star table tennis players and coaches from China has landed in the United States for a two-week training session with top players from Team USA, an event that organizers said will further enhance communication and friendship between athletes of the two countries.

"#Pingpong diplomacy has played a pivotal role in #ChinaUS relations. I wish our national #tabletennis team a good visit to the US to further the spirit of friendship and cooperation," Cui Tiankai, Chinese ambassador to the US, said on Twitter.

The 58-member delegation, led by Liu Guoliang, a China table tennis legend and chairperson of the Chinese Table Tennis Association, includes many distinguished players in recent ping-pong history, such as Olympic gold medalists Ma Long and Ding Ning, as well as former Olympic and world champions Ma Lin, Chen Qi, Wang Hao and Guo Yan.

The Chinese team and US players will practice in a joint training camp at the University of California in Los Angeles from Aug 11 to 25, said Bruce Liu, a member of the board of directors of USA Table Tennis.

Team members from the US likely will include players such as Lily Zhang, Wu Yue, Amy Wang, Nikhil Kumar, Kanak Jha and Nicholas Tio.

"Table tennis plays a pivotal role in the establishment of Sino-US diplomatic relationships. We hope to enhance the friendship between the two countries through the joint practice," Liu said.

According to Liu, the idea for the joint training camp came about after the US city of Houston, Texas, and the southwestern Chinese city of Chengdu, learned they will host the 2021 and 2022 world table tennis championships, respectively, during the International Table Tennis Federation's annual general meeting in Budapest, Hungary in April.

The fact that the US and China will host the world table tennis championships in successive years is significant because 2021 marks the 50th anniversary of Ping-Pong Diplomacy.

In 1971, a chance encounter between an American player and Chinese player, Glenn Cowan and Zhuang Zedong, during the 31st World Table Tennis Championships in Nagoya, Japan, led to an unexpected thaw in the long-stalled US-China relationship.

As they were prepared to leave Nagoya, the US Table Tennis Team received an all-expense paid invitation to visit China, where they would play a series of friendly matches. In response to the Americans' visit, the Chinese National Table Tennis Team, led by Zhuang Zedong, embarked on an eight-city tour in the US in April 1972.

What became known as Ping-Pong Diplomacy paved the way for President Richard Nixon's historic visit to Beijing in February 1972.

It also led to the signing of the Joint Communiqué on the Establishment of Diplomatic Relations, by Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping and US President Jimmy Carter, which formally established official relations between the two countries in 1979.

"This is the first time the Chinese team will bring the entire team and will present a great opportunity for the US players to learn, to build friendship with the Chinese players, and also to build a great partnership between our two associations," said USA Table Tennis CEO Virginia Sung.

"We hope to make this joint training camp an annual event leading up to the Houston and Chengdu World Championships and the 2028 LA Olympic Games," she added.

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