BEIJING: Fifty years ago, with an unexpected yet fortunate encounter, Chinese and American ping-pong players broke through deeply entrenched ideological barriers and started a world-reshaping process that eventually recoupled their countries after 20 years of mutual hostility and isolation.
With a visible force in Washington now attemtping to decouple the two already closely intertwined major world players to the detriment of the global good, it bears particular significance to revisit the wonderful legacy and tap once again into the power of ping-pong diplomacy.
What can be learned from the legendary story is that differences of cultural inheritance and political systems are not real obstacles to people-to-people exchanges, and, more importantly, that the two countries have the courage and wisdom to steer their relationship in the right direction.
When US ping-pong player Glenn Cowan accidentally boarded the bus carrying the Chinese team on that spring day in 1971, in the middle of the Cold War, he received from the Chinese players gestures of goodwill and respect, instead of hostility.
Their amicable interactions helped the two long-estranged nations know more and better about each other.
Leaders on both sides seized the positive momentum to normalise bilateral relations, leading to the establishment of US-China diplomatic ties eight years later.
The small ball moved the big world.
Over the decades, mutual knowledge between the Chinese and Americans has snowballed, and their interactions have made great strides, delivering tremendous benefits to the two countries and the rest of the world.
The two countries now have 50 pairs of sister provinces and states and 231 pairs of sister cities.
Also, China has been one of the largest sources of international students in the United States for years.
On the economic front, bilateral trade has seen an incredible hike from an almost negligible US$2.5bil (RM10bil) in the late 1970s to about US$600bil (RM2.4 trillion) last year.
What China and the US have achieved in the past decades shows that nations and peoples with different systems and values can respect one another and live together in peace, as long as they have the will to manage differences and look farther than their living time for greater and long-term benefits.
Sadly, over the past four years, some China hawks in Washington tried to decouple the world’s top two economies.
They waged trade wars, obstructed normal bilateral scientific cooperation, imposed restrictions on Chinese students and travellers, and peddled preposterous lies about China over the Covid-19 pandemic.
Those actions have severely harmed what many deem as the world’s most important bilateral relationship. — Xinhua