The special event held in Shanghai last Saturday to commemorate the 50th anniversary of ping-pong diplomacy between the United States and China is a useful reminder of the positive impulses that once prompted the flowering of ties between the two nations, so seemingly scarce today. At the end of the 31st World Championships in Nagoya, Japan, the US table tennis team, responding to a Chinese invitation, arrived in Shanghai on April 10, 1971, the first American group to visit since the founding of the People’s Republic of China. The Chinese paid a return visit the following year. The twin visits broke the ice and laid the path for then President Richard Nixon’s watershed visit to China in 1972.
Sport – which is competition conducted under fair rules – is not only a great leveller but also serves as the friendly equivalent of malevolent contest. Hence, it is all the more distressing to note the growing calls in the West for a boycott of next year’s China-hosted Winter Olympics over alleged human rights abuses in Xinjiang and elsewhere. It is not just in the US, but many voices in Canada too, a powerhouse in winter sport, are making such demands. Unsurprisingly, such talk revives memories of the US boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympic Games and the reciprocal spurning of the 1984 Los Angeles Games.