Players relive moments of 'ping-pong diplomacy'
Current Chinese and US national teams convene to commemorate friendship
Connie Sweeris was one of nine table tennis players who traveled to China at the end of the 31st World Championships 48 years ago, a trip that gave birth to the "ping-pong diplomacy" and paved the way for the re-establishment of United States-China relations.
On Thursday night, she joined two other long-ago teammates, Judy Hoarfrost and George Braithwaite, in reliving the 1971 experience by playing friendship matches against some of the current top players from the Chinese National Table Tennis Team.
Current Chinese and US national table tennis players convened at the Nixon Library in Yorba Linda, California, to celebrate the anniversary of the ping-pong diplomacy.
At the event, the three original members of the 1971 USA team and some of China's most established players had a friendship exhibition game.
"This was a real neat experience for us to come to the Nixon Library here and be able to play against the Chinese national team. I got a chance to play against Ding Ning, and we had some really good points. They are No 1 in the world. So, it just seems really fun for the US players, especially from way back in the 1970s, to meet one of the top players and be able to play a top player now," Sweeris said.
"This means a lot, because of the exchanges that happened in 1971 precipitated our friendship that has been developing down through the years now," she added.
Judy Hoarfrost, who was only 15 years old when she toured across China in 1971, enjoyed a friendship match with reigning world champion Liu Shiwen.
"It is very exciting to have the Chinese table tennis team here. It's very generous of them to have the best players in the world to come here and train with the American athletes. So we feel very honored that they are here," she said.
"It was a really amazing thing that table tennis, my sport, played a role in bringing the people of USA and the people of China together to eventually have diplomatic relationship with China," she added.
The banquet was put together by the Chinese Consulate General in Los Angeles, Nixon Foundation, USA Table Tennis, as well as the Chinese Table Tennis Association, to welcome the Chinese National Table Tennis Team. The team is in Los Angeles from Aug 5-25 for a training camp with Team USA.
"It is true that ping-pong diplomacy occurred in a bit of an unexpected way. Nobody would've expected that a small ping-pong ball could have such a magical power to open the door that has been long shut between our two countries. Yet it came as a natural outcome of the efforts as well as the desire of our two people for friendship and good relationship," said Zhang Ping, Chinese consul general in Los Angeles.
Although the ping-pong diplomacy took place more than 40 years ago, its legacy remained important for the China-US relationship today, the diplomat noted.
"At present, the China-US relationship is standing at a critical juncture. In the current situation, it's more important that we carry forward the legacy of the ping-pong diplomacy, bringing into full play the role of'a small ball rotating a big globe'. We need to strengthen people-to-people connections, further deepen our friendship and make concerted efforts to maintain a stable and sound development of China-US relations," Zhang said.