“Take the diplomacy out of war and the thing would fall flat in a week.” WILL ROGERS
By Alex P. Vidal
The act of an American private sports outfit to invest in China through the promotion of Manny Pacquiao versus Brandon Lee Rios bout in Macao last November 24, can be considered as “boxing diplomacy” following the famous “pingpong diplomacy” in 1971 and the “badminton diplomacy” (I coined this term in an article I wrote in 2009 in Chicago) in 2009 in Tehran, Iran.
In the Cold War era and during ferocious anti-communist campaign in the 60s, it’s inconceivable to see an American sports company like Top Rank doing business in a Chinese property. The Pacquiao-Rios tussle generated millions of dollars in revenues for hotels and shops and capitalism had a field day in Macao for a couple of weeks. But the boxing diplomacy may turn out to be short-lived if we review the front page story of the Philippine Daily Inquirer dated November 28 or four days after the Pacquiao-Rios duel.
In that front page story, a US B-52 Stratofortress bomber was reported to have flown over the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea that the Chinese call Diaoyu Islands. Beijing said on November 7 it monitored two B-52s flying over the islands in defiance of its declaration of an “air defense identification zone” in the area.
“The Chinese government has the will and ability to defend our national sovereignty and security,” foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang was quoted to have said at a regular press briefing in the report by Agence France-Presse.
Now that tension has again escalated between China and the USA, all the efforts put forward in the past to improve diplomatic relations between two countries through sports, are in danger of being to put to waste.
When the war was raging in Vietnam and the Cold War was entering its 26th year in April 1971 or 37 years ago, a Pan Am 707 landed in Detroit, Michigan, carrying the People’s Republic of China’s world champion table tennis team for a series of matches and tours in 10 cities around the United States.
The era of Ping-Pong diplomacy had begun 12 months earlier when the American team– in Nagoya, Japan, for the World Table Tennis Championship–got a surprise invitation from their Chinese colleagues to visit the People’s Republic. Time magazine called it “The ping heard round the world.” And with good reason: no group of Americans had been invited to China since the Communist takeover in 1949.
Why had they been invited? Smithsonian’s David A. DeVoss said the Chinese felt that by opening a door to the United States, they could put their mostly hostile neighbors on notice about a possible shift in alliances. The United States welcomed the opportunity; President Richard M. Nixon had written: “We simply cannot afford to leave China outside the family of nations.”
Soon after the U.S. team’s trip, Nixon, not wanting to lose momentum, secretly sent Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to Peking to arrange a Presidential visit to China. Nixon’s journey seven months later, in February 1972, became one of the most important events in U.S. postwar history. “Never before in history has a sport been used so effectively as a tool of international diplomacy,” said Chinese Premier Chou En-lai. For Nixon, it was “the week that changed the world.”
In February 2002, President George W. Bush, in his second trip to China, recalled the meeting that came out of Ping-Pong diplomacy, telling President Jiang Zemin: “Thirty years ago this week, President Richard Nixon showed the world that two vastly different governments could meet on the grounds of common interest and in a spirit of mutual respect.”
Despite its critical diplomatic relationship with Iran, the US Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs sent a delegation of 12 Americans, including eight female athletes, coaches, and managers representing USA Badminton, to Tehran, Iran, from February 3-9, 2009.
The team competed in the Fajr International Badminton Tournament at the invitation of the Iranian Badminton Federation.
From pingpong, US had embarked on another peaceful mission through badminton in the hostile territory in a bid to improve its relationship with the Islamic country which has blamed the West for its various problems.
The Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and USA Badminton also hosted the Iranian Badminton Federation for the U.S. Open in July 2009. The visit was reportedly part of the US’s “people-to-people” exchanges with Iran.
Since 2006, the US has included Iranians in a range of educational, professional, and cultural exchange programs. In the past two years, over 250 Iranians, including artists, athletes, and medical professionals, have participated in exchange programs in the United States.
Through its Sports United program, the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs has brought the Iranian National Teams for Basketball, Water Polo, Weightlifting, and members of the men’s and women’s National Table Tennis teams to the United States. The US also sent 20 members of USA Wrestling to Iran to compete in the prestigious Takhti Cup in January 2007.