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'Ping pong diplomacy' celebrated
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They are not common diplomatic tools:several paddles, a few ping pong balls and some table tennis players from China and the United States.

But the fact that nine American table tennis players were invited to Beijing for exhibition games with Chinese players in April 1971 did break the ice between the two nations.

Thirty-eight years after those historic games, players from the two nations lined up for a rematch in the Chinese capital on Wednesday.

First came the 1971 U.S. team's youngest member, Judy Hoarfrost.

"When I first came to China in 1971, I didn't know the significance at first. As we went to China right away after the invitation, so we didn't have chance to really learn until we left China," Hoarfrost told Xinhua while warming up for a match with a veteran Chinese player, Qi Baoxiang.

The invitation from China came during the 31st World Championships in Nagoya, Japan where the Chinese team was competing for the first time in two years.

Just two days later, nine U.S. team members crossed into the Chinese mainland from Hong Kong, becoming the first group of Americans to visit the Chinese mainland since 1949.

"My picture with Premier Zhou Enlai was on the front page of all the newspapers around the world. When I went back, everybody was so interested.I was only 15 years old, but they had all questions for me like I knew something special about China. Just because I had been there," Hoarfrost recalled.

"It (Ping Pong diplomacy) is the first step of the march towards the relations between the two countries. It played a very important role,"said U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John D. Negroponte at the friendship game, a tribute to three-decade China-U.S. diplomatic ties.

Negroponte was the highest ranking U.S. official to come to China for a series of commemorative events marking the 30th anniversary diplomatic relations.

Although the 51-year-old Hoarfrost lost to Qi by 3 to 11, she said she enjoyed the match. "Ping Pong really can bring people together."

The match not only helped the veterans revive the old memories, but also connected the younger generations between the two nations.

As the representative of the U.S. junior players, Ariel Hsing said she was "very excited to be a Ping Pong diplomat."

After winning the 2nd place Women's Singles at U.S. National Championships last December, the 13-year-old was picked to play in Wednesday's friendship match.

Hsing's fast break play on both sides of the paddle enabled her to beat her Chinese opponent Chen Meng in 15-minute-long match.

"I was just lucky to win. She played very well," Hsing said of Chen, a member of Chinese women team wining the 2008 Asia Juvenile Championship.

"Good job," Deputy Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Guangya told Hsing, a Chinese American born in San Jose, California.

"The rematch helped pass down the old friendship to the younger generation," said Liang Geliang, a top player who played against the U.S. team in Beijing in 1971.

As the finale of Wednesday's match, Liang and Hsing played together against another pair of Qi and Peter Li, the other junior American.

Their two matches went to the wire and ended in a tie, bringing down the house.

Since her first tour in 1971, Hoarfrost has visited China five times, all in the name of Ping Pong diplomacy.

"So many changes in China. People are much better educated now, have much more communications with other countries. People travel out of China and bring back what they learn. People have many more opportunities to learn."

Changes also took place in the China-U.S. relations over the past 30 years. "We now have a very broad and deep relationship in many different walks of lives, politically, socially, economically, and in terms of science and education," said Negroponte.

Looking to the future, Negroponte said there are "many different possibilities" for the U.S.-China relations. "I am sure the next 30 years will be even better."

"I'm very happy to win. I hope I can make it to the 2012 London Olympics," Hsing said with excitement. "I hope to get involved in Ping Pong diplomacy again."

(Xinhua News Agency January 7, 2009)

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