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Exchanges mark key anniversary of 'ping-pong diplomacy'

China Daily | Updated: 2021-04-20 09:13
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SHANGHAI-A China-US friendly ping-pong match was held in Shanghai recently to commemorate the 50th anniversary of "pingpong diplomacy" between the two countries.

Sha Hailin, chairman of the Shanghai People's Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries, was one of the participants in the match.

"Some American friends showed great interest in signing up for the match or becoming cheerleaders and sponsors though they may not be good at playing ping-pong," Sha says.

According to Sha, it was the first time for some people to even touch a ping-pong racket. "Their enthusiasm makes me feel the real need for exchanges between the Chinese and American people."

He says, earlier this year, he had a conversation with the head of the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai, also known as AmCham Shanghai, who proposed to hold a commemorative event on the 50th anniversary of "ping-pong diplomacy".

"The proposal was in line with our ideas, which showed that the China-US friendship has a solid foundation at the grassroots level," Sha adds.

Fifty years ago, the US table tennis team was invited by its Chinese counterpart to visit China at the conclusion of the 31st world championships in Nagoya, Japan. The US players arrived on April 10, 1971, to commence their visit to China, becoming the first US group to visit since the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949.

The Chinese team paid a return visit the following year. The mutual visits broke the ice in two decades of estranged China-US relations and eventually led to the normalization of bilateral ties.

In the commemorative match in Shanghai, the 64-year-old Sha had paired up with Ker Gibbs, president of the AmCham Shanghai, just as more than 20 other Chinese and American players did. The idea behind this mixed team formation was to highlight the theme of "friendship first, competition second" and convey the significance of cooperation rather than confrontation.

"The development of the China-US relations has not been smooth during the past five decades. Though it has encountered ups and downs, twists and turns and even major setbacks, cooperation is the mainstream," says Sha, suggesting that the two countries should have the wisdom and courage to seek common ground while shelving differences.

Recalling an interesting incident from the match, Sha says an American participant, who had once watched matches of the Chinese team when they visited the United States in 1972, met one of the Chinese players after 50 years.

Sha adds that both the American participant and the former Chinese player reminisced their shared memories, reflecting real grassroots exchanges between China and the US.

"The commemoration of the 50th anniversary of 'ping-pong diplomacy' is to trace the original aspiration and deepen exchanges and cooperation between the two countries in order to benefit each other and the rest of the world," Sha says.

According to Sha, in addition to the friendly match, a series of interviews and special reports are also included in the schedule for the commemoration. Following Shanghai, other Chinese cities including Guangzhou and Beijing will also hold commemorative events.

The Chinese and American people need peace and cooperation, says Sha, adding that he hopes China's sincerity and goodwill in hosting the "ping-pong diplomacy "commemorative events will encourage people in the two countries to work together in consolidating and developing the China-US relations.

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