This Day in International Law–April 10

By: Kelsey Quigley

International diplomacy can be accomplished in many ways—formal and informal, planned and fortuitous, begrudging and hopeful. Two events from April 10s past juxtapose drivers of international legal developments: drawn-out formal negotiations and pure chance.

The Good Friday Agreement

On Good Friday, April 10, 1998, Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, and the United Kingdom entered into the Belfast Agreement, more commonly known as the Good Friday Agreement (GFA). The GFA represented major progress in the 1990s Northern Ireland peace process, laying out 1) the status and government of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom; 2) the relationship between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland; and 3) the relationship between the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom.

Various political processes, spanning nearly two years, were required to implement all of the provisions of the GFA, which remains today as the main source for Northern Ireland’s devolved system of government.

Ping-Pong Diplomacy – Make Shots, not War

On April 10, 1971, the US Table Tennis Team became the first American delegation to set foot in the People’s Republic of China capital since 1949, marking a thaw in U.S.-China relations now commonly referred to as “Ping-Pong diplomacy.” On April 6, while both the US and Chinese national teams were competing in Nagoya, Japan for the 31st World Table Tennis Championships (during the country’s isolationist years, athletes were among the few Chinese nationals permitted to travel overseas), the Chinese government extended an invitation to the US team, and its accompanying journalists.

Among the theories surrounding what triggered China’s sudden invitation, the most interesting and the most likely reason, according to table tennis historians, was the chance meeting and display of generosity between the flamboyant American player Glenn Cowan and the renowned Chinese player Zhuang Zedong. Zedong described the meeting in a 2007 talk at the University of Southern California (USC) sponsored by the U.S.-China Institute.

During the World Table Tennis Championships in Nagoya, which marked China’s return after a six-year absence from entering the event, Cowan was practicing with another Chinese competitor until Japanese officials closed the training area. When Cowan had packed up his equipment and left the arena, he discovered that the US national team bus had left without him. As Cowan looked around in vain for his team, another Chinese player waved for him to join their bus as it departed. As Cowan made his way to the back of the bus, the Chinese players largely ignored him, as he represented heated athletic and political opposition. But Zedong, considered China’s best competitor, and therefore a spokesperson for the team, approached and greeted Cowan and presented him with a silk-screen portrait of the Huangshan Mountains.

When Cowan walked off the bus with the Chinese team, journalists eagerly captured the story, arousing international public interest and encouraging the non-profit National Committee on United States China Relations to request that the US team visit China. When the Chinese Department of Foreign Affairs received this request, it declined to extend an invitation. However, when Mao Zedong saw coverage of the chance athletic encounter in Dacankao, a news source that was accessible only to high-ranking government officials, he changed his mind – extending a formal invite to the US team. Mao, reading about the chance encounter, reportedly remarked, “This Zhuang Zedong not only plays table tennis well, but is good at foreign affairs, and he has a mind for politics.

Kelsey Quigley is a J.D. candidate at Berkeley Law.  She is a student contributor to Travaux.

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