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Ping Pong Match Commemorates US-China 'Ping Pong Diplomacy'

  • Stephanie Ho

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte is in Beijing for activities commemorating the 30th anniversary of the current Sino-American diplomatic relationship. The highlight Wednesday was a ping pong match, which evoked history, but also looked toward the future.

A ping pong tournament between China and the United States in 1971 cracked open the door between the two estranged nations. This marked the beginning of what the world would come to know as "ping pong diplomacy."

Washington and Beijing eventually normalized ties in 1979. Tuesday, the two sides are celebrating the 30th anniversary of what many people see as one of the world's most important bilateral relationships.

To commemorate the historic sporting event that started it all, Chinese and American athletes took part in a ping pong exhibition match in Beijing.

The guests of honor were U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte and Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Wang Guangya. Negroponte replaced Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who remained in the United States because of the Mideast crisis.

Judy Bochenski Hoarfrost was one of the original competitors on the American side.

"I feel like I have a personal stake in what happens," she said.

She was 15 years old when she came to China to play ping pong the first time. She is now middle aged.

She says she is impressed with the changes she sees in China - both socially and in greatly improved Sino-American relations.

"This would have happened without ping pong. We would have relations between our two countries," she said. "We would have a nice new embassy built here this year. All those would happen, I think without table tennis. But I feel like it makes life more interesting when we let the things that we have in common, like sports, bring us together in the political realm."

Hoarfrost took part in Wednesday's exhibition, but the spotlight fell on the younger players.

Thirteen-year-old American youth ping pong champion Ariel Hsing is the daughter of Chinese immigrants. She started playing ping pong at the age of seven and feels "extremely excited" to have been chosen to take part in the commemorative ping pong match in China.

"China's extremely good at table tennis. And, one day, I hope that America will be as good in table tennis as China," she said.

Hsing practices up to four hours a day, six days a week. But she says she thinks Chinese players are so good because they practice even more.

Meanwhile, in a meeting earlier in the day, Deputy Secretary of State Negroponte told Vice Foreign Minister Wang the United States looks forward to the smooth development of relations with China in the future.

Negroponte is scheduled to meet with Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping before leaving Beijing Thursday.

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