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Ping-Pong Diplomacy

Updated: 2017-09-18 | By:

Ping-Pong Diplomacy

"Ping-pong diplomacy" refers to a series of events involving the exchange of table tennis (ping-pong) teams between the People's Republic of China and the United States in the early 1970s. These visits initiated a thaw in Sino-US relations, and are figuratively referred to as a process whereby "a tiny ball set the whole globe in motion."

The 31st World Table Tennis Championships, held in Nagoya of Japan, in March and April 1971, provided a convenient venue for direct contact between China and the United States at a time when the two countries had no diplomatic ties. There was amicable interaction between the table tennis teams from China and the United States during the championships. Keenly sensing an opportunity for reengagement between China and the U.S., Chairman Mao Zedong extended an invitation to the U.S. table tennis team to visit China which was readily accepted by the Nixon Administration. The visit by a delegation of the USA Table Tennis (USATT) took place from April 10 to 17, 1971, and culminated in a cordial meeting with Premier Zhou Enlai. It was reciprocated by the Chinese table tennis team's visit to the U.S. on April 11, 1972.

Credited with ending a freeze of more than 20 years on personnel exchanges between the two countries, "ping-pong diplomacy" heralded a historic breakthrough in Sino-US relations, and helped propel the normalization of Sino-US relations and accelerate New China's return to the international stage.