You've heard of Ping-Pong Diplomacy, right?
Well today here in Beijing, we got a instance of it, though instead of breaking down diplomatic barriers, the only result of today's table tennis exhibition between President George H.W. Bush and a group of table tennis players was fun for everyone involved.
This all went down at Beijing Normal University, where most of the American athletes here are training before and during the Games. Thanks to a stubborn boxing coach, who kicked our interview out of the pugilists' lair, we ended up in the judo training room -- which happened to be adjacent to the table tennis room. WATCH VIDEO
On his way in to meet Matt and the rest of us, President Bush couldn't help himself and hit a few balls with the U.S. team, which, ironically, is comprised entirely of Chinese-American players. WEB-EXTRA VIDEO
President Bush is serving as the Honorary Captain of the U.S. Olympic Team, and he's clearly enjoying the role, relishing the chance to interact with as many American athletes as possible.
Beijing is a particularly apt place to interview President Bush, since he served for 14 months as the head of the U.S. Liaison Office here in 1974-75. That was a time before the U.S. and China had formal relations, so instead of Bush being the Ambassador to China and working out of the U.S. Embassy, there was neither an ambassador nor an embassy.
Much of President Bush's time during that period was spent playing sports (particularly tennis) or attending games. He also rode his bicycle extensively, and received lots of stares when he would walk his dog Fred (Chairman Mao had banned dogs and cats during the Cultural Revolution).
He would have met with Chinese government officials, but in the era's political climate, they pretty much ignored him (though they didn't ignore President Nixon, President Ford or, especially, Henry Kissinger).
As we'll see on Friday night, when Bush 41's son, President George W. Bush shakes hands with Chinese President Hu Jintao at the Opening Ceremony, times have definitely changed in U.S.-China relations.