How ping pong tied US and China together

The United States and China, two major powers: one in the East, the other in the West. We are talking about two different cultures, completely different civilizations, and yet the two most influential countries in the world.

In the turmoil of the modern world, where we have advanced technological development on one hand, and the economic recession on the other, it is crucial that the two biggest powers cooperate, and that is actually what is happening, especially in terms of finance.

I would like to go back to the 1970s, before diplomatic relations were established, to the time where there was practically no contact between the two countries. It was a time that was quite difficult for China on one hand, with the Cultural Revolution having an effect on the daily life of probably every Chinese citizen. However, the difficult times would serve as a platform for a new beginning, which would come only a few years later.

Richard Nixon was first US president to visit China

So with that background, contact between the two sides started with a friendly game of ping pong. As unusual as it may seem, diplomacy and great change began with a sports competition. In 1971, the American ping pong team was in Nagoya, Japan, when they got an invitation to come to China for a game…and by 1972, president Richard Nixon came for a weeklong visit to the People’s Republic. This visit was truly important for future relations, and was the beginning of a new era in international relations.   “If there is anything I want to do before I die, it is to go to China,” said President Richard Nixon in an interview for Time magazine at the time.

Nixon stayed in Beijing for a week, which is much longer than a usual diplomatic stay. A communiqué signed in Shanghai by the two countries on February 27, 1972 emphasized that it was in the interest of all nations for the United States and China to work towards the normalization of relations. By 1979, official diplomatic relations were finally established between the People’s Republic of China and the United States of America. 

The Chinese sent an invitation to the American PIng Pong team to compete in China

Both sides understood that hostility between the two nations could not go on forever, and it was necessary for development to go on to a different level. After all, this kind of cooperation meant that two of the world’s biggest countries would be working together somehow. Since the beginning of the economic reform of 1978, we can see how much has changed, and how important the establishment of diplomatic relations would be for the future.  

Almost forty years later, we are seeing the results of the first baby steps taken together by leaders of the two nations in order to cooperate.  We are looking at the situation from the future now, and from here, it’s interesting to watch how a game of ping pong could have grown into this very important relationship which today affects the entire world – one way or the other.

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