50 Years after Ping-Pong Diplomacy

On 21 February 1972 when the Independent Bangladesh was observing its first ‘Bhasha Shahid Dibas’ (the day of martyrdom in the language movement of 1952), President of People’s Republic of China and Chairman of the Communist Party of China Mao Zedong and the US President Richard Milhous Nixon met with each other in Beijing when the Vietnam war was upward with communist militants switching over from guerrilla warfare to modern-positional war under the leadership of legendary General Vo Nguyen Giap. International media, inspired by Chinese diplomacy covertly, dished out what was coined as “Ping Pong Diplomacy”. In April 1971, at the end of the 31st World Table Tennis Championship at Nagoya in Japan, the sensation began in an encounter between Glenn Cowan of the US team and Zhuang Zedong of the Chinese team .As Cowan had missed his bus following practice and boarded the Chinese team’s bus, Zhuang approached the American, shaking his hand and offering him a depiction of the Huangshan Mountains on a piece of silk cloth.

Premier Chou En-lai, at home in public relations opportunity received the Americans at a banquet in the Great Hall of the People on 14 April. "You have opened a new chapter in the relations of the American and Chinese people. I am confident that this beginning again of our friendship will certainly meet with majority support of our two peoples," he famously said.

But ten years later, new revelations stupefied conceited media pundits and wise diplomats when Mso’s close friend, China Reconstructs, wrote editorially the untold story that much before the Nagoya event, Mao expressed his desire that Nixon pay a visit at least as a tourist if it was not possible to visit China as the US President. On the national republic day, 1 October, 1970, when after several years, one of his dearest western friend and his biographer Edgar Parks Snow was invited as a guest to sit beside Mao; the author and leader of Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution sought his help to ensure the US President’s visit. Beijing Review, brought out a special issue remembering 10th death anniversary of the famous American journalist, wrote Epstein, “In 1970 he (Snow) was back. In a talk with him, then, Chairman Mao Zedong explained that those officials who had opposed his return to China in 1967 and 1968 ‘had belonged to an ultra-Leftist group that had seized power in the Foreign Ministry for a time, but they were all cleared out long ago’, Snow reported. On National Day that year Snow stood on the rostrum of Tien An Men with Chairman Mao. And on this visit, he was able to contribute, very substantially, to the advancement of his long-cherished hope, equal relations between his native USA and China that could facilitate ties and friendship between their two peoples. It was to him that Chairman Mao, afterwards, publicly expressed readiness to welcome the then President Richard Nixon, to China, for a visit and talks. Thus the long-standing rift between the two countries began to narrow. (China Remembers Edgar Snow, Ed Wang Xing, Beijing Review, 1982, p 28). In the footnote, Mao was quoted saying that he might come as a tourist, if diplomatic imperatives would prevent him to come as the head of state.

When Jan Myrdal, an ardent admirer of Mao was in Kolkata at the Kolkata Book fair, he was asked ‘why the restoration of diplomatic essentials was needed during the acme of Vietnamese resistance to the US imperialism’. He said,China needed a way out of isolation in geopolitics.

When Mao-Nixon tete-e-tete was happening, Naxalite elders such as Charu Majumder, Kanu Sanyal, Asim Chatterjee and Nagi Reddy as also pro-Naxalite newspapers were silent about it. In truth they were busy to fight Soviet social imperialism to please the Chinese mandarins.


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Vol 54, No. 37, March 13 - 19, 2022