The Heat: Ping Pong Diplomacy 50 years on

The Heat

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Fifty years ago Ping Pong Diplomacy helped China and the United States forge a new relationship. 

As the world table tennis championship finals take place in Houston, Texas, we’re reminded of a historic moment from 50 years ago when the finals were held in Japan. It was 1971 and  relations between China and the United States were strained. But, before the major political breakthrough that came with President Nixon’s visit to China a year later, competition in the form of sports was already playing a diplomatic role. Table tennis to be precise. It became known as Ping Pong Diplomacy. And, it all began in April 1971 with a chance encounter at that big tournament in Nagoya. 

To discuss:

  • Jan Berris is Vice-President of the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations. 
  • Chas Freeman, former U.S. Ambassador. He was principal American interpreter for President Nixon’s visit to China in 1972. 
  • Victor Gao is Chair Professor at Soochow University.
  • Yan Liang is a professor of Economics at Willamette University.

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