Analysis: Can the United States and China get back to ping pong on their way to peace?

Players from the two nations will unite in the mixed doubles competition at the World Table Tennis Championships in Houston this week to mark a milestone in diplomatic and sporting history.

Fifty years ago, Chinese leader Mao Zedong invited the United States table tennis team to China. The series of friendly matches that followed helped break the ice before Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s groundbreaking and secret trip to China months later, leading to President Richard Nixon’s opening up to the then-lonely giant and ultimately putting him on the path. towards the current one. superpower status on the rise.

If a new breakthrough in goodwill was ever needed, it is now. Relations between the United States and China are at their lowest point since China reopened to the world, with disputes over Taiwan, human rights, the oppression of Uighur Muslims and the military strengthening of Beijing.

The Pentagon was recently alarmed by Beijing’s test of a hypersonic weapon, and almost every major strategic decision in Washington is viewed through the prism of a constructive confrontation with China. Although Biden spoke with Chinese President Xi Jinping last week in hopes of easing tensions, he is now under political pressure to call for a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics.

It’s a lot to fix rubber paddles and bouncing plastic balls. But ping pong has worked before.

Two couples will try to bridge the geopolitical gap in Texas: Lin Gaoyuan of China will team up with Lily Zhang of the United States, while Kanak Jha of the United States will play with Wang Manyu of China.

Liu Guoliang, who chairs the World Table Tennis Council, described the tournament in Houston not only as an opportunity to repair relations across the Pacific, but also as a triumph over the pandemic.

“These athletes, who are friends with each other, can work together in the competition; so that fans from both countries can cheer for them, opening a new chapter of Ping Pong Diplomacy in this new era,” said Liu.

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