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在线翻译:
szdaily -> Opinion
Diplomacy with ping-pong and panda
    2017-September-25  08:53    Shenzhen Daily

Winton Dong

dht0620@126.com

I WROTE this article in memory of famous U.S. diplomatic scholar John Lewis. According to a New York Times report, he passed away on Sept. 4, 2017 at the age of 86 at Stanford University. Professor Lewis was an important initiator and promoter of the Ping-Pong Diplomacy when he served as vice president of the U.S. National Committee on United States-China Relations in the early 1970s.

Last week, a group of famous Chinese ping-pong players visited the headquarters of the United Nations in New York, Chicago and many other U.S. cities. On Sept. 18, ping-pong players who took part in a series of historic exchanges between China and the U.S. in 1971 and 1972 got together at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, the first stop on the Chinese team’s visit to the United States in 1972.

Liang Geliang and Zheng Huaiying, the former world champions who played in the 1971 exhibition match against the U.S. ping-pong delegation, excitedly shook hands with Dell and Connie Sweeris, who were among the nine U.S. players invited to visit Beijing back then. They posed in front of a photo exhibition with highlights of the series that helped bridge China-U.S. relations out of the deep freeze. Connie Sweeris still remembered her first visit to China 45 years ago. “I was excited and anxious because we knew nothing about China at that time,” she said.

Shrouded by the “Cold War” mentality, China and the United States were antagonistic to each other in the 1950s and 1960s. If it weren’t for Ping-Pong Diplomacy helping to break the thick ice between the two nations, there wouldn’t be as much exchange and communication today. More importantly, such a unique channel of diplomacy opened the door for then-U.S. President Richard Nixon’s landmark visit to China in February 1972, thus leading to the normalization of ties between two of the most important countries in the world.

Besides ping-pong, the giant panda has also served a lot to normalize and boost Sino-U.S. relations. As a national treasure of China, the cute black-and-white mammal is perhaps the world’s most recognizable symbol of Chinese culture and conservation. The giant panda is always associated with China and its brand image fits well with the real nature of Chinese people: kind, caring and peace-loving. Like people in other countries, Americans also show great interest in the precious mammal. As early as in 1956, the Chicago Zoo once wrote a letter to Chinese authorities, hoping to exchange for or buy a panda from China. Such an attempt was doomed to end in failure under the totally antagonistic international circumstance at that time.

Pat Nixon, wife of U.S. President Richard Nixon, was also a great panda fan. She arrived in Beijing for the first time with her husband on Feb. 21, 1972. In spite of her tight schedule, the first lady paid a visit to pandas in Beijing Safari Park the next morning, bought many panda souvenirs, and even tentatively asked for a panda as a gift from China, but got no immediate response.

Several days later, while attending a state banquet hosted by the Chinese Central Government, Pat was offered a pack of panda-branded cigarettes by Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai. “I don’t smoke,” she said.

“I don’t mean cigarettes. I mean China will give real pandas to the United States as a gift,” Premier Zhou answered. Two months later, two pandas were sent to the Washington Zoo in April 1972.

With ping-pong and pandas as a bridge, Sino-American ties witnessed substantial progress during the past decades despite many ups and downs. However, at present, relations between the two important countries still face many challenges such as the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue, the South China Sea issue, the Taiwan issue and trade friction. China really hopes that political issues such as the situation on the Korean Peninsula will not spill over into the economic cooperation between the two countries.

Communication between China and the United States is gearing up after U.S. President Donald Trump confirmed recently that he would visit China in November this year. In order to make sure that the forthcoming visit is an effective and fruitful one, China and the United States need to create more and more cultural, political, economic and people-to-people exchanges in the coming days — including sports exchanges like the Ping-Pong Diplomacy more than four decades ago and special friendship ambassadors such as pandas — to enhance our relationship based on mutual respect and benefit.

(The author is the editor-in-chief of the Shenzhen Daily with a Ph.D. from the Journalism and Communication School of Wuhan University.)

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