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Henry Kissinger Passes Away, the Diplomat who Crossed Bridges built by Ping Pong Diplomacy

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Published in Table Tennis
Friday, 01 December 2023 19:10

A major global figure during his tenure of office as the United States Secretary of State and National Security Advisor under the presidential administrations of Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, Henry Kissinger passed away on Wednesday 29th November, he was 100 years old.

Most significantly, he is noted for making possible the visit of Nixon to Beijing in 1972 from Monday 21st to Monday 28th February; the occasion a direct result of events now known as Ping Pong Diplomacy.

Having not competed in a World Championships since Ljubljana in 1965, China returned to the international scene at the 1971 World Championships held in late March and early April in the Japanese city of Nagoya.

Totally without precedent, as a result of an encounter between players Glenn Cowan and Zhuang Zedong, the Chinese government extended an invitation to the United States table tennis team to visit China; the invite was duly accepted.

It was against this background of distrust and suspicion that Henry Kissinger worked his diplomatic skills; the events in Nagoya opening doors.

Just over one week after the United States team had returned home safely, China confirmed they were pleased to accept the invitation extended by Graham Steenhoven, the President of the United States Table Tennis Association, to visit the following year.

A distinct thaw in relations between the United States and China, facilitated by table tennis, was evident, opportunities had arisen for politicians to play their part.

At the time kept secret from the media, later in 1971 Kissinger made two visits to China, enabling the 1972 summit between Richard Nixon, Zhou Enlai and Mao Zedong to take place. A formalisation of relations between the United States and China ended 23 years of diplomatic isolation, it concluded an era in which there was both hostility and fascination from the west with regards to China.

Soon after the historic meeting between the leaders in 1972; Kissinger very much in the background, the Chinese table tennis team arrived in the United States.

On Tuesday 18th April, the party entered the Rose Garden at the White House where each member of the Chinese team was welcomed by Nixon.

In a period of just one year, countries between whom there was suspicion, were in dialogue; table tennis had risen above politics, a diplomat had exercised exceptional skills, the outcome was accord, a situation that in principle very much exists to the present day.

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