Table tennis: China and US join forces at world c'ships on 50th anniversary of 'ping-pong diplomacy'

(Clockwise from top left) China's Wang Manyu and Lin Gaoyuan will partner Americans Kanak Jha and Lily Zhang. PHOTOS: LIANHE ZAOBAO, @JHAKANAK/INSTAGRAM, @LILYYZ/INSTAGRAM

(REUTERS, XINHUA) - China and the United States will team up for the mixed doubles at the World Table Tennis Championships starting on Tuesday (Nov 23) on the 50th anniversary of "ping-pong diplomacy", the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) said on Monday.

"Ping-pong diplomacy" was triggered by a meeting between a Chinese and an American player at the 1971 world championships and helped mend relations between the two countries.

That resulted in an American table tennis team being invited to China to play what the Chinese know as "ping-pong", ultimately paving the way for US President Richard Nixon's trip to the country in 1972.

China's Lin Gaoyuan and Wang Manyu will partner Americans Lily Zhang and Kanak Jha, respectively, at the Nov 23-29 event in Houston, the ITTF said.

"I'm really happy to be partnering with Lily Zhang for the mixed doubles event," Lin said. "She's the top table tennis player in the US. I'm not China's top player yet, but our goal is to come out on top for this event.

"The biggest advantage about pairing with her is that she speaks Mandarin. I hope we can get into the groove soon, develop good chemistry and work hard towards a great performance."

Echoed Zhang: "It's so cool to pair with a Chinese national team player. They're the best in the world, so I will do my best and hopefully, we can work well together and get a good result."

Calling "it will be a historical moment", the five-time US national champion said she is really glad that China and the United States are able to work together through sport.

The Chinese Table Tennis Association (CTTA) and the US Table Tennis Association together submitted the request to allow China-US pairs to compete, to the ITTF and the ITTF executive committee approving the request on Sunday, according to the statement.

"We have been thinking about how we can build on the China-US friendship kick-started by our predecessors 50 years ago, and further enhance this relationship through sports events, sports activities and community events," Liu Guoliang, World Table Tennis Council chair and president of the CTTA, said.

Virginia Sung, chief executive officer of USA Table Tennis, commented: "We are really excited that the opportunity has materialised for China and the US to play a mixed doubles event in Houston.

"As it did so many years ago, sport is once again showing us the power of unity, and ping pong is once again changing the course of history," she said.

Fifty years ago, the US team was invited by their Chinese counterparts to visit China at the conclusion of the 31st World Championships in Nagoya, Japan.

The US players landed in Beijing on April 10, 1971, becoming the first US group to visit China since the founding of the People's Republic in 1949.

The Chinese team paid a return visit the following year.

"Once again, we are all witnessing the unique power of sport and how table tennis can create dialogues and foster mutual understanding," said ITTF group CEO Steve Dainton.

"This will inspire us to deliver an extraordinary and historical championships and to encourage the dreams, hopes and aspirations of not only the entire table tennis community but also the next generation worldwide," he added.

It will be the first time the tournament will be held in the US.

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