I've been busy in my day job and just returned from a week in London where President Obama and David Cameron attempted to play ping-pong, but were thoroughly schooled by, well, schoolchildren. Admittedly, the American president had something of a serve. But the British PM? Ouch. If Obama showed up at my work with his table tennis sneakers ready, I'm pretty sure I could give him a run for his money. [Full disclosure: we got a pong table that we make full use of every afternoon]. For those who missed their performance in London, here it is:
All right, I know Obama's a basketball player, so an evaluation of his pong skills isn't entirely fair. But little does he know that, not only is China cleaning our clock on high-speed rail, its leaders are soon to dominate the courts, dunking over Obama like Gibson over Wade in the Eastern Conference Finals. I give you Premier Wen Jiabao:
It's difficult for me to articulate what I just saw, but I think it's safe to say that Yao Ming gets to keep his title as the Chinese basketball sensation. I particularly enjoyed when the camera panned to a line of top officials clapping heartily at Wen's performance; the woman featured is Liu Yandong, State Councilor and currently the only female in the Politburo. Check out around the 1:00 mark, when Wen gets the offensive rebound and converts the layup.
It's no secret that the NBA is immensely popular in China, with Kobe Bryant's face ubiquitous in advertisements in major cities. The admiration for Kobe among Chinese youth borders on the reverential--guys like Lebron and D. Rose have yet to command the kind of respect that is reserved for the Laker guard. I suspect that the viewership of the NBA finals in China far outnumbers that in the U.S. And it's not just basketball. The American sports/entertainment industry is salivating over the potential of the China market. The NFL has also set up shop in China, and I've heard the WWF is exploring the Chinese market too.
But more important, I think a Wen vs. Obama b-ball game needs to happen. Ping-pong diplomacy is so 1970s. Great power relationships are to be settled at the three-point line and in the paint in the 21st century. Obama makes a three-pointer, China signs onto a binding climate change agreement. Wen Jiabao does a windmill dunk, Obama agrees to give China market-economy status. It is that easy.
Well, I will turn to "weightier" issues soon when I've got a bit more time.
Damien Ma is a fellow at the Paulson Institute, where he focuses on investment and policy programs, and on the Institute's research and think-tank activities. Previously, he was a lead China analyst at Eurasia Group, a political risk research and advisory firm.