In Japan, Ping Pong is more than just a sport. And Ping Pong has always been more than just a sport for the entire world. In fact, according to a PBS article, one of the first public hints of improved U.S.-China relations came on April 6, 1971, when the American Ping-Pong team, in Japan for the 31st World Table Tennis Championship, received a surprise invitation from their Chinese colleagues for an all-expense paid visit to the People’s Republic. Time magazine called it “The ping heard round the world.”
On April 10, nine players, four officials, and two spouses stepped across a bridge from Hong Kong to the Chinese mainland, ushering in an era of “Ping-Pong diplomacy.” They were the first group of Americans allowed into China since the Communist takeover in 1949.
In 1956, the Chinese table tennis team was invited to take part in the 23rd World Championship held in Tokyo, the first sports exchange between the two countries since the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949.
As recently as last year, Chinese President Hu Jintao (Front R) played table tennis with Japanese table tennis player Ai Fukuhara (Front L) during the opening ceremony of the 2008 Japan-China youth friendly exchange year at the Waseda University in Tokyo.
The “China-Japan Youth Friendly Exchange Year” program was deemed a success by the leaders of the two countries last year. On March 15, 2008, the opening ceremony was held in Beijing. China and Japan then carried out a series of youth exchange activities in areas such as culture, academics, environmental protection, science, technology, media, TV, film and tourism.
A Japanese youth delegation consisting of representatives from all walks of life such as youth members of the parliament, senior high school students, college students, civil servants, corporate employees, and reporters arrived in Beijing on December 18, 2008 and visited Ningbo, Hangzhou, Shenyang, Dalian, Jinan, Qingdao, Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Xi’an, Nanchang, Shanghai, and Tianjin.
Yasuo Fukuda said that Japan-China relations are developing smoothly toward the direction of mutual benefits from a strategic perspective. In the face of the current international financial crisis and challenges, Japan and China, in particular, should deepen cooperation and contribute to the financial stability and economic development of the two countries and the region. Yasuo Fukuda said that the foundation of Japan-China relations should be based on the promotion of mutual understanding and friendship between the people, especially between the youth. China-Japan Youth Friendly Exchange Year achieved a complete success. The Japanese side will continue to promote the exchange between the youth of the two countries.
So who can say Ping Pong is child’s play?