Hu a success in ping pong diplomacy 2

PUBLISHED : Friday, 09 May, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 09 May, 2008, 12:00am

Coat off, glasses off but tie still tight, President Hu Jintao showed off his table tennis skills yesterday at Waseda University.

Perhaps inspired by the upcoming Olympic Games, a combative Mr Hu, in a red tie and white shirt, showed that he was not a person easily beaten.

Again and again he slammed the little white ball, scoring points against Japanese table tennis player Ai Fukuhara, drawing rounds of huge cheers - although his repeated wins did surprise some.

Then Chinese table tennis queen Wang Nan joined in the game and, despite missing a few shots initially, Mr Hu soon regained his composure and used his forehand smash to draw even with the two world-class players.

With the crowd cheering, the trio exchanged shots for several rounds, Mr Hu taking on the pair of women simultaneously, before ending the memorable game that showed off the 65-year-old's stamina and tough, competitive streak - a trait he seldom reveals in public.

In a rare show of affection, the president hugged Ms Fukuhara after the game, then autographed both players' table tennis paddles.

While the game no doubt provided a light-hearted moment for the state visit, some were disappointed that the two leaders did not exchange a few shots, as originally expected.

The game brought back memories of the 'ping pong diplomacy' of the 1970s, when exchanges of table tennis players helped thaw ties between Beijing and Washington.

Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda stood on the sidelines throughout the game, without picking up a paddle.

To the delight of Mr Hu and onlookers, the Japanese prime minister jokingly said afterwards that his decision not to play was correct. 'Mr Hu played very strategically,' Mr Fukuda said. 'I must be more cautious.'

All the players were very dedicated and showed a high level of professionalism, he said.

Chinese leaders often like to display their athletic prowess while visiting foreign countries. Premier Wen Jiabao is known for his love of jogging and baseball, playing catch with Mr Fukuda the last two times they met.