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Commemorating anniversary of Ping-Pong Diplomacy a reminder for US to take moves to break stalemate in ties: experts

Xin Qiang

Global Times 2023-12-17

Peking University table tennis team visits the US and participates in friendly games to commemorate the 52th anniversary of Ping-Pong Diplomacy on December 15, 2023. Photo: Courtesy of Guo Yasong

Peking University table tennis team visits the US and participates in friendly games to commemorate the 52th anniversary of Ping-Pong Diplomacy on December 15, 2023. Photo: Courtesy of Guo Yasong of Peking University

The Chinese Embassy in the US held an event recently to commemorate the 52nd anniversary of Ping-Pong Diplomacy, during which Xie Feng, the Chinese Ambassador to the US, called on the two sides to draw inspiration and wisdom from the decades-old event. Chinese experts believe it is not only a move intended to evoke the US' memory of this friendly history, but also a reminder for Washington to show more political wisdom and take action to help bilateral relations walk out of the current stalemate.

The US is yet to take substantive actions to drive bilateral ties out of the current rocky terrain since the summit between two heads of states in San Francisco last month. At the same time, Washington is still taking the old path of interfering in the Taiwan question, sowing discord between China and its neighboring countries. Chinese experts are concerned that once the window of opportunity won by a meeting between the two heads of states closes, China-US relations will once again plunge when the US enters the presidential election cycle next year.

"We need to re-break the ice between our countries," Xie said at the event. "Since China and the US managed to break the 22-year-long ice 52 years ago, we should have even greater confidence today to shake off the Cold War mentality, defy the 'political correctness', and leap across the trap of major-country conflict," the Xinhua News Agency reported on Saturday.

The Peking University table tennis team was invited to attend the commemorating events in Washington and San Francisco. The team is also set to participate in the 2023 USATT Table Tennis Open Championships at the Ontario Convention Center in California.

"Ping-Pong Diplomacy in 1971 opened the history of friendly exchanges between China and the US through a small ping-pong ball, deepening mutual understanding between the two peoples. I believe that sport is a good starting point, as people are more willing to communicate and understand each other through the sports they love. We also hope that cultural exchanges between the two countries can go beyond sports and promote more frequent and closer friendship between the peoples," China's Olympic table tennis champion Ding Ning, also a lecturer at the Physical Education and Research Department of Peking University who accompanied the delegation on the visit, told the Global Times on Sunday.

The contribution of Ping-Pong Diplomacy in history still inspires young people today, and we hope that our generation can continue to inherit the essence and beautiful memories of Ping-Pong Diplomacy and write a new chapter of friendly exchanges between China and the US, Ding said.

Connie Sweeris, an American table tennis champion who traveled on the ice-breaking trip to China in 1971, her husband Dell Sweeris and Jan Berris, who received the Chinese table tennis delegation visiting the US in 1972, recalled their experiences and shared their thoughts.

"I think it's very important to promote the relationship in table tennis," Connie Sweeris told reporters.

"And the more exchanges, whether they're educational, sports or music, or any kind of exchange between our two countries... if we can learn to do that, I think [if] we can break down barriers and open up communication that is just phenomenal," she said.

The Chinese Ambassador urged the two sides to reinvigorate exchanges between their peoples, and embark on a new journey in the China-US relationship. "The summit in San Franciscois not a finish line, but a new starting point for bilateral relations," Xie said.

More than 300 guests from various sectors in the US attended the event.

The event is rather an inspirational occasion that aims to evoke friendly memories from the US, and remind them of the difficulty in achieving a stable China-US relationship, Lü Xiang, a research fellow at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences told the Global Times. He admitted the current situation is more complicated than that of 52 years ago, as the US now deems China as major competitor in almost all fields and bilateral ties have entered a stalemate.

Commemorating the anniversary of Ping-Pong Diplomacy at this juncture shows China has the goodwill to pushing bilateral ties onto the right track, and the relationship between the two countries can be mended and improved once both sides demonstrate enough political wisdom and determination, Xin Qiang, deputy director of the American Studies Center of Fudan University, told the Global Times on Sunday.

He said the event aims to build up people-to-people exchanges between the two countries, and hopefully this non-governmental interaction can serve as a catalyst for more governmental exchanges.

Narrowing window

In contrast with China's friendly gesture, US Ambassador to China Nicholas Burns said at a Friday event that "I don't feel optimistic about the future of US-China relations. I feel that we need to see how things develop." Burns warned that he does not expect Washington's relationship with Beijing to improve anytime soon.

Earlier this month, Washington voiced support for the Philippines when the latter continued reckless provocation against China on South China Sea issue. The US accused China of having "interfered in lawful Philippine maritime operations and in Philippine vessels' exercise of high seas freedom of navigation."

The US State Department has also approved a $300 million sale of equipment to help maintain the island of Taiwan's tactical information systems, the Pentagon said on Friday, which marked the latest US assistance for the island's defenses, per Reuters.

Ever since the summit in San Francisco, there has been a lack of impetus from the US to take concrete actions to improve ties, Lü said. The US' recent provocation on China's Taiwan question proves that it has never given up suppression on China nor is it sincere about mending the fraught relationship, he said.

Experts warned that as the US presidential election nears, the window of opportunity won by the meeting between the two heads of state is getting narrower, because the US' intoxicated domestic politics has become more hostile against China as presidential candidates tend to play the "China card" to win votes.

CBS reported in November that in recent months, US presidential candidates have begun to detail their own plans on how to deal with China. Some have even called for the decoupling of the US and China economies, while others say a move that drastic is not realistic.

"The bilateral relationship between Beijing and Washington may even deteriorate with the coming of the US election next year, or due to the US' continued provocation on the Taiwan question," Xin said.


2005- ©Center for American Studies,Fudan University.