Somehow, it looks like Floyd Mayweather might suddenly be relevant in discussions of US-China relations. He’s already gotten Beijing’s pass to tour the Great Wall, adopted and christened a baby panda in Chengdu, and now he’s back to pledge his devotion to the Chinese Boxing Federation.
View this post on InstagramA post shared by Floyd Mayweather (@floydmayweather)
A post shared by Floyd Mayweather (@floydmayweather)
The undefeated boxing icon has been officially designated “special advisor” to China’s national boxing team. In a statement released on the Chinese Boxing Federation’s official WeChat on Tuesday, Mayweather was reported as having pledged to “go all-out to use his influence and resources to support the Chinese boxing project in achieving excellent results at the Tokyo Olympics.”
Beijing’s seemingly sudden endorsement of an American boxing icon may seem surprising for a nation which, not too long ago, imposed a 27 year ban on the sport.
??? Former five division world champion Floyd Mayweather has been named as Special Advisor to China's boxing team as the country aims to improve their medal count at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. pic.twitter.com/ijSHuEPsoa— Boxing For All (@BoxingForAIl) July 23, 2019
??? Former five division world champion Floyd Mayweather has been named as Special Advisor to China's boxing team as the country aims to improve their medal count at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. pic.twitter.com/ijSHuEPsoa
— Boxing For All (@BoxingForAIl) July 23, 2019
China banned boxing in 1959 during Mao’s Great Leap Forward — a blow against the Western imperialists who brought the cultural import to the mainland in the first place. After a string of incidents left a number of boxers dead, the state condemned the sport for excessive violence. The ban on boxing lasted 27 years, dragged out due to the devastation of the Cultural Revolution, and the general anti-Western sentiment of the time period.
Fittingly enough, it was Ping Pong Diplomacy that finally turned the tables for boxing. In 1971 during the Nagoya World Table Tennis Championships, displays of camaraderie and friendship between Chinese and U.S ping-pong players were so moving that they catalyzed a series of history-making Sino-U.S relations.
The term “Ping Pong Diplomacy” was employed by everyone from Mao to Nixon, and the players opened up a new chapter of relationships between Chinese and U.S government officials, even prompting then-President Nixon to ease Cold-War era travel bans and trade embargoes against China (sound familiar?). The very next year, he made history by becoming the first U.S president to visit China. The year after that, Muhammed Ali was invited to visit the mainland, and the ban on boxing was finally lifted.
Now, 60 years later, the tables have truly turned. China has 12 Olympic medals (3 gold, 3 silver, 6 bronze) for boxing and 3 WBA world championship titles, including most recent from youngest Chinese citizen to ever win a world boxing title, Xu Can. Popularity for combat sports in China continues to rise, and Mayweather’s addition will most certainly draw prospective youth towards boxing as well.
Xu Can Becomes China’s Third Ever World Boxing Champion
Since then, Beijing’s various endeavors at extending the hand of Chinese soft-power have moved past the boxing arena and into various, non-sports related avenues — Panda Diplomacy, for example, is the state’s attempt at gifting (or loaning out) exotic endangered animals to either cement national alliances and friendships, or express dissatisfaction. China has also been known to pour billions of funds into the creation of China-US Hollywood blockbusters with mixed casts, such as 2016’s The Great Wall featuring the likes of Matt Damon and Jing Tian. These attempts are not always successful — Panda Diplomacy is often criticized as animal abuse, and The Great Wall was a flop — but they demonstrate initiative to heal US-China relations, at the very least.
Mayweather christening a panda, taking Insta-clout shots on the Great Wall and pledging his devotion to the Chinese national boxing team may not be enough to stop a trade war this time around. But this announcement is a strategic move in soft-power that may actually point towards a brighter day for US-China relations. Call it Ping-Pong diplomacy, Panda diplomacy, or whatever else you want — lets just hope it works.
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