Ping-pong diplomacy takes over UN lobby

UN General Assembly

China’s ambassador to the United Nations stepped away from the Security Council and into the high stakes world of table tennis. Playing in the lobby of the UN, Liu Jieyi proved he can take on his professional ping pong opponents. CGTN’s John Terrett reports.

The UN Table Tennis Club played a team of current and former Chinese champions in one of the buildings many lobbies. Gameplay was fast and furious, and when seen in real life, much more intense than what can be conveyed through words.

“I’m really excited and I’m really impressed that so many People at the UN are fans of table tennis,” according to Wang Hao, the world single’s champion. “I’m very happy to see that a lot of them have come today to play with us and to watch these wonderful games.”

The event celebrated the 45th anniversary of “ping-pong diplomacy.” In 1972, China and the United States had not been on speaking terms for years. But an American table tennis team visited China, and a Chinese table tennis team visited America, possibly changing everything.

It may be coincidental, but within a year President Nixon was in China, inaugurating a new era in diplomacy between Beijing and Washington.

Players at the UN kept this history in mind.

“I’m really proud to be a player of table tennis, because it has played a major and historic role in the relationship between China and the USA,” Wang said.

Among the guest players on the UN side is Team USA’s Yijun Feng, who took the time to explain to aspiring players (like myself) what it takes to be competitive.

“I’d say fifty percent mental, and then fifty percent physical,” he explained. “If you’re only good at the physical skills, you’re not getting anywhere.”

An empty table tennis table was of course far too tempting an opportunity, so I challenged Yijung Feng to a knockabout. It wasn’t long before he finished me off with a mighty forehand.

On the eve of the 72nd annual General Assembly, the competition has left some wondering if nations might be better off settling their differences over a game of ping pong, rather than upstairs in the Security Council chamber.

Now that’s quite a thought!

For more on Ping Pong diplomacy, CGTN talked to Shirley Young, the chairperson of the U-S China Cultural Institute.