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Friday, January 20, 2012

U.S. and China Ping Pong Diplomacy revisited in recent Iran and Russia incidents

Time covers Ping Pong Diplomacy
Most Americans, and Chinese I suspect, have forgotten the occurrence when the U.S. Ping Pong team in 1971 was invited to China, all expenses paid, to play in Beijing, including tours of the Great Wall.  Time magazine called it “The ping heard around the world,” and rightfully so since American/Chinese relations were in the toilet at the time.  It was offhanded notification by the Chinese that they wanted to improve relations with the U.S.  It worked.

Richard Nixon, President at the time, felt the gesture was a good one and ended up making a trip to China later as the first American President to visit that country.  Premiere Chou En-lai even invited the Americans to a banquet in the Great Hall of the People.  Ten journalists including five from the U.S. were also invited.  In addition to visiting the Great Wall, the U.S. entourage saw the Summer Palace as well as being able to talk to Chinese students and factory workers and attend the ballet.

But what had led up to this competition between the two teams?  It was simply a chance meeting between the two stars, one from China’s team, Zhuang Zedong, the other from America’s team, Glenn Cowan, on a bus in Japan following the 31st World Table Tennis Championship in 1971.  Zedong presented Cowan with a gift, a silk-screen portrait of the Huangshan Mountains, which was unusual since we were in the midst of the cold war and China considered all Americans imperialists.

With no gift to return the favor at the time, in yet another chance meeting later, Cowan gave Zedong a T-shirt with a red, white and blue peace emblem flag with the words, "Let It Be."  This was followed by media coverage that resulted in the statement from Cowan that he would like to visit China, which eventually got to the Chinese Department of Foreign Affairs.  They, of course, declined the offer but Chou En-lai and Chairman Mao Zedong thought better of the situation and turned it into an international affair.

Find out who won the tournament in the video below:



At the time, many wondered why the major powers of the world couldn’t just turn their differences into one big ping pong game, rather than the on-going cold war and actual wars of destruction and loss of lives.  Of course it never happened but there have been incidents over the years where countries, normally at each other’s throats, have halted the conflict temporarily to come to the aid of each other.  Two such occurrences happened recently.


Iran seaman thanks US Navy

During January of this year, the U.S. Navy rescued Iranian fishermen three times.  The first, an Iranian fishing dhow that flooded, requiring the men to abandon it and board other nearby dhows.  The Navy provided them food and water.  Earlier in the month the Americans rescued 13 Iranian fishermen who had been captured by Somali pirates.  And just days later another rescue by the U.S. Coast Guard of six Iranian fishermen in waters off Iraq.  The Iranians said, "Without your help, we were dead. Thank you for all you did for us."


Russian tanker in Nome, AK

And then it was Russia that came to the aid of weathered-in Nome, Alaska, which has experienced one of the severest winters in decades with temperatures dipping more than 30 below zero.  Nome would have run out of fuel by March or April, which was long before their next delivery.  A path had to be cleared through thick ice for the Russian tanker Renda by a Coast Guard cutter for the two 700 yards long parallel hoses to unload 1.3 million gallons of fuel.

All in a day’s work you might say?  Actually, on the outset, it is an example of how world powers can work together in simple ways to come to the aid of those in need.  It’s no different than how Americans, when challenged with a crisis, pull together to help each other, no matter what race, religion or status.  It seems that we all have good intentions that we follow through on but it all eventually reverts back to business as usual.  Why? 

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