Friday, September 05, 2008

Caption: The writer with student colleague Bruce Lee having fun over the “ping pong” table at Jilin University, China. Socialization like this is common amongst international and Chinese students, one of the effective ways to know China well.

Caption: Chinese premier Wen Jiabao holds a torch after lighting the Beijing Paralympic flame during the Paralympic flame lighting ceremony at the ancient Temple of Heaven in Beijing, Aug. 28, 2008. (Xinhua/Pang Xinglei)

“Ping Pong Diplomacy”: The Power of Sports

By Mathew Yakai in Changchun, China

THE GOVERNMENT of Papua New Guinea has no recognition for sports in the country or to an extent, nothing at all, revealing a sorry state for the upcoming sporting youths.

This sets one of the bad legacies in PNG’s sporting history.

Recent move by the government directing the Papua New Guinea Sports Foundation (PNGSF) to “immediately vacate” Sir John Guise Stadium Indoor Sports Complex to make way for the ACP-EU joint parliamentary session depicts the governments’ position on sports.

PNGSF is the Governments’ agencies that coordinates and delivers sports programs, but the instruction will severely affect the scheduled sports programs.

The set back will be inevitably disastrous as indicated by the acting executive director John Kambuou.

While recognizing the importance of the upcoming ACP-EU joint parliamentary session, what compels this commentary is that the government does not have in place avenues for specific events given their equal importance.

Sports are one of the most important areas that any governments in the world invest tremendous resources to see their athletes strive to the best of their capabilities on world stages.

Sadly, the move by prime minister and NEC’s office comes after Team PNG lead by the “big fish’ Ryan Pini competed against the top world athletes like America’s Michael Phelps in Beijing Olympic recently.

Pini splashed the pool at “water cube” that sent forth ripples of hope for the “Island Paradise” when the world watched and knew that Pini is an “island boy”.

Not only that. The direction from NEC came about 12 days (August 26th, 2008) before the commencement of the 13th Paralympic Games in Beijing, which started yesterday (Sep 6th, 2008) and will end Sep 17.

What is behind this scenario is that PNG Government does not promote a healthy population for the development of her economy.

Now, how can PNGSF coordinate sending PNG representatives to the current Paralympic Games in Beijing if any?

This further shows that PNG Government does not recognize the presence of our disable population, who are living amongst PNG citizens to participate in sports and other activities equally.

There are disabled individuals in PNG and rest of Oceania who contribute enormously in professions that have profound impact on regional economies. List of names can be enumerated if their privacy is not of concern.

Those who could not make for further studies can excel in other areas like sports if the government provides facilities like having a permanent building for PNGSF, rather then recycling the Stadium for political, economics and social purposes.

The Chinese government constructed the stadium originally for sporting purposes.

A healthy population is the foundation for healthy economy, and that can only come through sports if efforts and resources are put in.

Evidences show that some effective groups of people who represent their motherland overseas are diplomats, students and athletes.

But athletes commit their time, resources, and efforts by going through painful trainings to represent their country. We need not look further then Ryan Pini, Dika Tou and others.

When Pini won gold for the first time in Sydney 2000, the ripple of sports hopeful pierced throughout the Pacific Ocean, let alone PNG homeland applauding Pini who became an overnight household name.

Pini made his country’s mark on the world map, and this is the power of “sports diplomacy”.

Sports have also played important roles during and after the Cold War periods.

The popular ‘ping pong diplomacy’ is a legacy that revealed the power of sports that can bring lasting peace and normalcy between rising and established world powers.

Perhaps it had never occurred to anyone - and indeed nor to anyone even three decades ago - that the game would play such a vital role in the Olympic Movement and be used someday as a powerful weapon in diplomacy leading to the re-opening of Sino-U.S. relations in the early '70s.

After the U.S.-backed Kuomintang government was overthrown in 1949, the United States adopted a policy of blockade towards the newly-born People's Republic of China.

In the late '60s, in face of increasing Soviet menaces, the Nixon Administration wanted to change its global strategy by improving its relations with China.

As Nixon had written in the October 1967 issue of Foreign Affairs, "Taking the long view we simply cannot afford to leave China forever outside the family of nations."

Immediately after his nomination for President, he reiterated in an interview to Time Magazine that "We must not forget China. We must always seek opportunities to talk with her." "If there is anything I want to do before I die, it is to go to China."

On the other hand, as Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai had declared as early as 1955 at the Bandung Conference, "The Chinese people are friendly towards the American people. The Chinese people want no war with the United States. The Chinese government is willing to sit down for talks on problems concerning the relaxation of tensions in the Far East, particularly in the Taiwan area."

Towards the end of 1969, the talks in Warsaw between China and the United States at the ministerial level which had gone on for 14 years without achieving any result were resumed.

It happened that the 31st World Table Tennis Championships was going to be held in Nagoya, Japan, from March 28 through April 7, 1971. Concerning China's participation in this tournament, a special meeting was held at the State Council on March 11.

It was attended by officials from the Foreign Ministry and the State Commission for Physical Culture and Sports, with Premier Zhou Enlai presiding.

"Our table tennis team represents our country and our people, " Zhou said.
"It will come into contact with many teams from other countries including the United States. If the American team is a progressive one, we may invite it to China for competition. Hasn't our team been to West Germany? Can't it even go to the United States? We haven't restored relations with Japan, but our sports delegation can go there."

While in Nagoya, Song Zhong of the Chinese delegation met with Steenhoven, manager of the U.S. delegation, who told him that on the eve of its departure the U.S. State Department, had decided to lift all restrictions on travels to China for holders of American passports.

Song said that this meant they might be able to meet someday in Beijing. Steenhoven said that American players had much to learn from Chinese players if they had the chance to visit China.

The conversation was immediately reported back to China, where a daily bulletin was published about the news from Nagoya, with copies sent to Zhou and Mao and to the Foreign Ministry.

Upon hearing the news about the conversation, Mao ordered that five telephone calls instead of three be made to Nagoya every day.

On April 1, across the Pacific, Henry Kissinger read a memorandum from the State Department in which Zhou was reported to have told former Japanese foreign minister Fujiyama Aiichiro that there might be a sudden turn for the better sometime in the relations between China and the United States.

In Beijing, after a careful study of the reports from Nagoya, the Foreign Ministry held that in inviting Americans to China, first consideration should be given to influential journalists and politicians.

Mao was well informed of what had happened in Nagoya. He decided to invite the American players immediately.

On April 7, the Chinese delegation received a directive from home: "considering that the American team has made the request many times with friendly enthusiasm, it has been approved to invite it, including its leaders, to visit our country."

Upon receiving the invitation, Steenhoven immediately reported to the American ambassador to Japan.

After reading the cable from Tokyo, Nixon decided at once that the American team should go to China, taking the invitation for the beginning of a long-awaited major diplomatic action.

On April 14, Zhou received the guest teams from the United States, Canada, Colombia and Nigeria at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.

When talking with the American players, he said, "The Chinese and American people used to have frequent exchanges. Then came a long period of severance. Your visit has opened the door to friendship between the peoples of the two countries."

A few hours after the reception, Nixon announced a relaxation of embargo against China.

In the latter part of April, China sent a letter to the United States, saying that China would be willing to receive a special envoy like the American Secretary of State, or the President himself.

In July Kissinger and Zhou had talks in Beijing from the 9th to the 11th and the two countries publicized a communiqué simultaneously on the 15th.

From February 21 through 28, 1972, Nixon visited China and met with Mao on the day of his arrival in Beijing. A communiqué signed in Shanghai was publicized by the two countries on the 27th.

The "ping pong diplomacy" led to the restoration of Sino-U.S. relations which had been cut for more than two decades.

This triggered off a series of other events, including the restoration of China's legitimate rights in the United Nations by an overwhelming majority vote in October, and the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and other countries, like PNG in 1976.

Many countries today are benefiting from the powerful effect created by the “little ping pong ball”.

This little “ball” had the ripple effect that eventually led China to engage in many regional and international organizations genuinely.

Thus, China opened up 30 years ago, and now experiences one of the fastest growing economies in the world.

Olympic Games in Beijing last month is not the concluding chapter of the little “ping pong ball” effects, but an opening of a new chapter in Chinas’ “peaceful rise”. This is “sports diplomacy”.

PNG and Oceania must learn from history and give sports a chance.

Note: “Asia-Pacific Perspective: China +” looks at Chinese society, culture, economy, governance and China’s role within the region and the world over. It mainly focuses on how Oceania can learn from China’s experience. The writer is a PNG student in China.