Commemoration for the 50th Anniversary of China-US "Ping-Pong Diplomacy" Successfully Held in Houston
——Ambassador Qin Gang Delivers Video Remarks
2021/11/25 10:09

On the evening of November 23, 2021, National Committee on United States–China Relations, USA Table Tennis, and Chinese Table Tennis Association jointly commemorated the 50th Anniversary of U.S.-China Ping Pong Diplomacy with the theme of “Celebrating the Past for a Better Future”. Ambassador Qin Gang, Dr. Henry Kissinger, former US Secretary of State, Mr. Gou Zhongwen, Director of the General Administration of Sport of China and President of Chinese Olympic Committee, Ms. Susanne Lyons, President of US Olympic Committee, delivered video remarks. The event was attended by about 150 guests, including Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee,Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, George H.W. Bush Foundation for U.S.-China Relations Chairman Neil Bush, Asia Society Texas Chair  Y. Ping Sun, National Committee on United States–China Relations Vice President Jan Berris,  USA Table Tennis Chair Richard Char and CEO Virginia Sung, Chinese Table Tennis Association President Liu Guoliang, as well as Chinese and US players and coaches.

Ambassador Qin said in his remarks that a few days ago, President Xi Jinping had a virtual meeting with President Joe Biden. In the meeting, President Xi pointed out, “the most important event in international relations over the past 50 years was the reopening and development of China-U.S. relations, which has benefited the two countries and the whole world.” And this most important event started from a small ping pong ball. Fifty years ago, the elder generation of Chinese and American leaders, Chairman Mao Zedong, Premier Zhou Enlai, President Richard Nixon, Dr. Henry Kissinger, showed extraordinary strategic foresight and political courage, and seized the opportunity to enable exchange visits between Chinese and American table tennis teams. The story of “a small ball moving the big ball” ushered in the normalization of China-U.S. relations, and profoundly changed the international political landscape. The story has been passed down until today. Over the past 50 years, China-U.S. relations have gone through twists and turns and made historic achievements.

Ambassador Qin said, in recent years, China-U.S. relations have met serious difficulties. This is not in the fundamental interests of the two countries and peoples. President Xi Jinping pointed out, “the most important event in international relations in the coming 50 years will be for China and the U.S. to find the right way to get along.” Some people consider today’s China-U.S. relationship as a competitive one. We Chinese often say, friendship first, competition second. We believe that win-win cooperation is always the mainstream of China-U.S. relations. We do sometimes compete, but we should follow the recognized rules like table tennis players, have fair and healthy competition, respect each other, appreciate each other, learn from each other, and make progress together. As President Nixon said, “We know that in the course of your contest, there will be winners and losers. But the big winner will be friendship between the people of the United States and China.” Fifty years from the Ping-Pong Diplomacy, the China-U.S. relationship is at a new crossroads. Today, the big ball of China-U.S. relations still needs the small ping pong ball to move it forward, from which we see the strategic vision, political courage and people’s friendship reflected in Ping-Pong Diplomacy back then, and this is why our commemoration is highly relevant and significant for today.

Dr. Kissinger said, this year marks the 50th Anniversary of Ping-Pong Diplomacy. It’s very moving for me. 50 years ago, the members of American table tennis team sent a message to Chinese athletes, asking for the American team to be invited to China. They had no government mission to do this. Chinese leaders soon decided to invite the group to visit China historically. I was National Security Advisor to President Nixon at that time. We had a feeling that at the very moment. We engaged and communicated with the Chinese government, leading to the invitation for me to visit China which came afterwards known as the “secret visit”. We welcomed any initiative that could improve the relationship. On the other hand, we were afraid that the publicity of Ping-Pong Diplomacy may lead to debate that would make the decision of the visit more difficult. But we were wrong. The visit went off spectacularly well. The athletes behaved like diplomats. The Chinese hosts were extremely friendly and hospitable. Premier Zhou invited the group for a meeting which delivered a very clear message to us. The table tennis team who had been to China on the self-appointed diplomatic mission made great contribution. I want to let everybody know that the table tennis community can contribute to mutual understanding and peace among our two great nations.

Director Gou Zhongwen said that sport is the common language of mankind. People of different nationalities, ethnicities and social backgrounds increase mutual understanding and forge friendship through sport. As China-U.S. relationship is standing now at a critical crossroads, we should learn from history to co-create the Ping-Pong Diplomacy of a new era, let sport bridge the two peoples and bond us together through heart-to-heart friendship, in order to enhance mutual understanding and friendship between our two peoples, and cement the foundation of China-U.S. friendship.

Ms. Lyons said that on the occasion of the 2021 World Table Tennis Championships, we celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Ping-Pong Diplomacy which has significant meanings. In 1971, the American team accepted the invitation to visit the People’s Republic of China, with the international headline ‘Table Tennis: the Sport Changed the World’. The new era of the relations between our two countries will send a message of peace that resonates around the globe.

US Congressman Jackson Lee said, I always think that sports are really a good form of diplomacy. There's something about the Olympics that is both competitive and engaging. That is what we call Sports Diplomacy, Ping-Pong Diplomacy. Hosting the World Table Tennis Championships in the United States is extra meaningful because this year is the 50th Anniversary of Ping-Pong Diplomacy. Most of you will be reading this history in the books, but this commemorative event allows everyone to relive this history, feel the power of athletes to build friendship and goodwill, and reopen the relationship between China and the United States.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said, the United States and Chinese national table tennis teams made a joint practice yesterday in honor of the 50th anniversary of Ping-Pong Diplomacy. 50 years ago, the Chinese and American athletes made the historic exchanges, which paved the way for President Nixon’s visit to China and broke the ice between our two countries, showing the spirit of ‘Friendship First, Competition Second”. And this spirit still resonates and has great meaning in 2021.

National Committee on United States–China Relations Vice President Jan Berris, USA Table Tennis CEO Virginia Sung, Chinese Table Tennis Association President Liu Guoliang, as well as Mr. Liang Geliang, Ms. Zheng Huaiying, Ms. Connie Sweeris, Ms. Judy Hoarfrost, who were all involved in Ping-Pong Diplomacy 50 years ago, delivered remarks, reviewing the unforgettable journey of Ping-Pong Diplomacy of "a small ball moving the big ball". They agreed that Ping-Pong Diplomacy fully reflects the common desire of China and the United States to establish and develop friendly relations and the deep friendship between our two peoples. The two countries should inherit and carry forward the spirit of Ping-Pong Diplomacy and continue to promote the people-to-people and cultural exchanges, injecting more positive energy to the development of China-U.S. relations.

During the event, representatives of the Chinese table tennis team Wang Hao and Fan Zhendong had an exhibition match with American veteran athletes Connie Sweeris and Judy Hoarfrost who visited China in 1971, drawing applause and cheers from the audience. Before the exhibition, USA Table Tennis Chair Richard Char granted Ping-Pong Diplomacy Awards to Liang Geliang and Zheng Huaiying, and Chinese Table Tennis Association Chair Liu Guoliang conferred the awards to Connie Sweeris and Judy Hoarfrost. The documentary of the US table tennis delegation's visit to China in 1971 and the Chinese table tennis delegation's visit to the United States in 1972 was played.

The commemoration was friendly and lively and lasted more than one hour. The guests spoke positively about the historic significance of Ping-Pong Diplomacy, hoping to take China-U.S. relations back to the right track of healthy development through carrying forward the spirit of Ping-Pong Diplomacy.

Meanwhile, in order to mark the 50th Anniversary of Ping-Pong Diplomacy, Chinese and US Table Tennis delegations announced on November 21 that Chinese and US players would team up to compete in mixed doubles at the World Table Tennis Championships, and conduct a brief joint practice on November 22.

On November 21, Houston Chinese Civic Center, Harris County-Houston Sports Authority (organizer of the World Table Tennis Championship) and the International Table Tennis Federation jointly held the event commemorating the 50th Anniversary of US-China Ping Pong Diplomacy . Ambassador Qin Gang sent a congratulatory letter to the event.

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