스포츠 외교의 ‘명암’···미-중 핑퐁외교와 한-대만 태권도 갈등

마오쩌둥(왼쪽)과 닉슨 대통령 <사진=AP/뉴시스>

[아시아엔=서의미 기자] 스포츠는 흔히 일종의 엔터테인먼트다. 많은 직장인들이 바쁜 하루 끝에 소파에 누워 좋아하는 스포츠 채널을 보곤 한다. 그래서인지 스포츠를 정치로 보는 시각은 우리에게 참 낯설다. 재미로 보면 될 것이지 농구나 야구를 한 국가의 정책과 연관지을 수 있을까?

하지만 두 나라 간의 관계가 그 어떠한 노력에도 불구하고 개선되고 있지 않는 상황이라면 서로 공이라도 던져 보는 것도 하나의 대책이 될 수 있을 것이다. 1970년대 미국과 중국의 ‘핑퐁외교’가 좋은 사례다. 2차 세계대전 이후 냉전의 산물이던 이데올로기 대립은 두 강대국의 우호 관계를 가로막고 있었다. 둘 사이의 차이는 깊이 뿌리 박힌 사고방식의 차이였던 탓에 중국과 미국은 장기간 서로를 아예 상대하지 않았다. 그러다 뜻밖의 탁구경기가 그동안의 긴장상태를 기적처럼 완화시켰다. 1971년 첫 탁구경기는 미중 외교개선의 시발점이 되었다.

당시 미국 대통령이던 닉슨은 이를 기회로 중국측에 공식 방문을 요청했고 그 후 양국 대화는 계속 되었다.

갑자기 재개된 중국과 미국의 교류가 믿겨지지 않는 듯 많은 사람들이 ‘대외정책이 이렇게 단순했나’ 하는 의문을 제기했다. 하지만 실제가 그랬다. 아주 단순한 원리가 작동하고 있었을 뿐, 해답은 그다지 멀리 있지 않았다. 중국과 미국은 그들만의 공통점 즉 ‘공통점’(common ground)을 찾았던 것이다. 서로 다른 모습의 사람들이 우정을 나누듯, 한 가지 공통점만 찾는다면 연결고리가 생길 수 있다.

물론 모든 것에는 예외가 있듯이 스포츠가 매번 답일 수는 없다. 2010년에만 해도 한국과 대만은 스포츠로 인해 굉장히 예민한 시기를 겪었다. 2010년도 아사안게임에 출전했던 대만 태권도 선수 양수천이 발등 센서 과다 부착으로 한국인 심판한테서 실격조치되면서 대만 전국에선 한국을 비난하는 목소리가 들끓었다. 이 사건으로 잠재했던 양국간의 갈등이 되살아난 것이다.

스포츠는 관계를 개선하기도 하고 무너뜨리기도 한다. 하지만 현재 우리가 살고 있는 역동적인 시대에 가장 필요한 것은 더욱 강화된 국제협력이다. 특히 미국 트럼프 정부와 영국의 브렉시트 등 고립주의적인 태도가 세계 무대를 차지하려는 이 시점에 엔터테인먼트를 넘어서 사회와 사회, 국가와 국가를 연결시켜줄 ‘스포츠 플랫폼’의 중요성은 아무리 강조해도 지나치지 않는다.

Ping-pong for All?

For most homes, sports arecategorized as entertainment. After a busy day at work, many wind down in the living room with their favorite sports channel on. It is the passion and energy of the athletes in motion that keeps us watching their lives at stake for the perfect goal and the perfect jump. All that time spent training and repeating the same move over and over again for a stage held once a year—twice at most—where they can show off their talent to heart’s content.

And then it’s done. The show is over; the families have lost the thrill. At a certain point, it is almost a futile attempt to glorify an otherwise static life. Our athletes add vitality to our lives that are usually at a standstill. But again, it is always just a sports match. No more, no less.

It is a foreign matter to consider sports as being the major agenda of a political administration. At most, sports are a President’s favorite pastime—as seen with Obama’s frequent trips to the golf courts. Indeed, how could basketball take the same seat as with nuclear codes and foreign policy? It does not, usually.

But when you have two nations that just refuse to be friendly, perhaps a little ball-throwing could help? In the 1970s, when the United States and China simply had “irreconcilable differences”over ideological theories that were the aftermath of the Cold War, table-tennis players were exchanged between the two nations in what would be referred as Ping-pong Diplomacy. The following matches marked the beginning of Sino-American relations that would initiate dialoguethat would be crucial for international cooperation.

Soon after thetennis games,Nixon made his famous trip to Beijing in 1972. It was the inaugural entrance of the East to the West in around 25 years and for those who had thought China would never warm up to the U.S., a ping-pong game seemed too good to be true.

What people didn’t know was that what was at work was only a simple diplomacy tactic: finding common-ground. It’s the same with all relationship goals; you may not agree on twenty things, but if you have one thing in common, that makes for a friendship. You see, China and America conflicted in their way of running a large nation. They differed in food, religion, and pretty much all cultural aspects. And yet, who doesn’t love a good game of ping-pong?

Of course, sports are not always the answer.In some cases, all it does is to incite political frustration. Although South Korea and Taiwan have, for the most part, enjoyed a relaxed bilateral relationship, the controversial Taekwondo ruling of the 2010 Asian Games (held in China) heightened anxieties that were thought to be issues of the past.

Taiwan’s Taekwondo athlete, Yang Shu-chun, also favorite to win, was ahead of her opponent by nine points when the Korean referee suddenly decided to disqualify her. It appeared that Yang was wearing more than one sensor on her foot that would help her gain more points. The problem was, however, the fact that Yang’s sensors had already been checked before the match and she had qualified to participate. The Taiwanese were outraged at the idea that the Korean referee acted out of spite; this feeling from decades of being treated as the underdog compared to big brother, China. Public outcry declared that South Korea and China conspired together that Taiwan end up with fewer gold medals.

Despite positive relations between Taiwanese and Korean youth, what with the Korean Wave(Hallyu) having found popularity all over Taiwan, this one event surfaced pent-up resentments. Taiwan had had enough of pandering to South Korea when it was obvious that South Korea would always choose China over Taiwan in the end. Reaction to the Asian Games incident ranged from anti-Korea posters on Taiwanese store windows to unfriendly glares at Korean tourists visiting the island.

Knowing that tension still hovers over Korea and Taiwan is proof enough that foreign diplomacy is uncertain ground. There are, indeed, numerous cases and exceptions that apply to each bilateral interaction.

Nevertheless, the Olympics, World Cups, and transnational tournaments will continue. In an era of a dynamic international arena, it seems appropriate to reconsider the role of sports amongst diverse societies. It is important to go beyond sports as mere entertainment or even just as an appeasement policy. Maybe it would help to place sports on a new plane: one that would act as a platform for a new age of international participation. When so much of the world wants to creep back to isolation (Trump’s America and with Brexit), how would we take advantage of sports camaraderie for a better global era?

 

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