Commemorating "Ping Pong Diplomacy" in Shanghai

Posted by Beatrice Camp
April 18, 2011
Consul General Camp and CELAP Vice President Haishan Play Ping-Pong

Forty years ago this week, a small U.S. delegation visited China to help ease tensions between Washington and Beijing through rather unorthodox means. On April 10, 1971, nine American table tennis players, four officials, two spouses, and 10 journalists crossed a bridge from Hong Kong into mainland China to usher in the age of "Ping Pong Diplomacy." Eight days of cultural exchange contributed to a thaw in bilateral relations. In February 1972, President Richard Nixon traveled to the People's Republic of China. At a welcome banquet in Beijing, Premier Zhou Enlai praised the U.S. table tennis team for opening "a new chapter in the relations of the American and Chinese people."

New chapters in this relationship are being written every day. During the second annual U.S.-China Consultation on People-to-People Exchange (CPE), Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Chinese State Council Liu Yandong hailed the importance of people-to-people engagement, which aims to enhance and strengthen ties between the citizens of the United States and China in the areas of sports, education, culture, science and technology, and women's issues. During the meeting, both sides acknowledged that "Ping Pong Diplomacy" in 1971 paved the way for the re-establishment of diplomatic relations with China.

At the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai, we witnessed the power of people-to-people exchanges at the 2010 World Expo, which attracted more than 70 million visitors. Most of the visitors were Chinese. For many, it was the first opportunity to experience the cultures of foreign countries. More than seven million people visited the USA Pavilion, where they learned about the importance of volunteerism and civil society through the film, “The Spirit of America.”

During the past two years, I have had several occasions to appreciate the U.S.-China relationship through other significant anniversaries. Last year, we celebrated the 30th anniversary of the re-opening of the consulate. And in 2009, we welcomed former President Jimmy Carter to Shanghai to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the normalization of the U.S.-China relationship.

In Shanghai, we commemorated "Ping Pong Diplomacy" with a friendly table tennis tournament on April 15, 2011, with Chinese officials and faculty at the Central Executive Leadership Academy Pudong (CELAP) -- a Central Government-level training academy for up-and-coming leaders. As was the case 40 years ago, the significance of this event was not wins and losses. Our goal was to bring together U.S. diplomats with Chinese officials in order to promote bilateral exchange.

Remembering these historic moments in the U.S.-China relationship encourages us to focus our people-to-people and government-to-government exchanges on building a more prosperous shared future. As Secretary Clinton said during her visit to the World Expo's USA Pavilion on May 22, 2010, "If our relations are defined by win-win solutions rather than zero-sum rivalries, we will thrive and prosper together." I can think of no better place for U.S. diplomats to commemorate "Ping Pong Diplomacy" than together with faculty and staff at a school for training China's future leaders. As I watched many of our consulate's entry-level officers interact with CELAP's junior faculty members -- playing ping pong and chatting together -- I felt a great degree of optimism about the future of the U.S.-China relationship.


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