Stars mark 40 years of Ping-Pong Diplomacy

Updated: 2011-12-09 07:32

By Wu Jiao (China Daily)

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Stars mark 40 years of Ping-Pong Diplomacy

Vice-President Xi Jinping and former US president Jimmy Carter sign ping-pong paddles, in Beijing on Dec 8, at an event that marks the 40th anniversary of Ping-Pong Diplomacy, which broke the ice for Sino-US relations. [Wu Zhiyi / China Daily]

BEIJING - Four decades on from their landmark match in Beijing that helped bring Sino-US relations out of the deep freeze, ping-pong maestros of the 1970s from the two nations reunited in the Chinese capital on Thursday.

Champions from yesterday and today from China and the US met to play an exhibition game at the Great Hall of the People to commemorate the Ping-Pong Diplomacy in 1971 that helped to bridge the two countries.

Vice-President Xi Jinping and former US president Jimmy Carter were among the hundreds in attendance to cheer them on.

Among the 14 players between the ages of 66 and 20, several of them played in Beijing in 1971, and the rest were from the current crop of ping-pong stars from the two countries, including 35-year-old world champion Wang Liqin.

Liang Geliang, 61, a former world champion who played in the 1971 exhibition match and is a household name in China, said it was exciting to play at the anniversary event.

Connie Sweeris, 64, who played in the 1971 match, said many cultural exchanges have taken place since that landmark event.

Noting that some Chinese sports stars are now playing in the US, and some US sports stars are now getting popular in China, Sweeris said "sports is a very good way" to promote understanding between the two countries.

Judy Hoarfrost, 56, who also played in Beijing in 1971 and has visited China many times since, said she was astounded by the huge changes that have taken place in China over the past 40 years.

"Everything we do on one side of the globe impacts on the other side of the globe, so strong and positive ties certainly benefit the two countries," she said.

Hoarfrost partnered with Yang Jun, 63, in the women's doubles section during Thursday's match, against Sweeris and Chinese female ping-pong champion Qi Baoxiang.

In 1971, nine US table tennis players attending the Nagoya World Table Tennis Championship in Japan were invited by the Chinese delegation to visit Beijing to play with their Chinese counterparts.

This was a significant step made by China to reestablish contacts between the two countries, and helped to lay the groundwork for the eventual establishment of diplomatic relations between the two nations.

US President Richard Nixon paid a visit to China in February 1972. The two countries eventually forged diplomatic ties in 1979 during the term of president Carter.

Addressing the ceremony, Vice-President Xi said that there were now more than 40 dialogue mechanisms between the two countries and very close trade ties, saying that "it has been a proven fact that it is the only correct choice for the two countries to work together, and it has been an irreversible historical trend".

Xi also urged the two countries to "seize the hour and the day" to enhance their dialogue, trust and cooperation.

"We should also properly handle sensitive issues with caution and effectively manage our differences to ensure that bilateral ties move forward on a healthy track," Xi said.

Carter said: "While the two countries have differences, for instance in the sectors of trade, these differences are trivial compared with the common interests of the two countries."