Why the Worldwide Concern Over Peng Shuai?


A easy query has gripped the sports activities world and drawn the eye of the White Home, United Nations and others:

The Chinese language tennis star disappeared from public view for weeks in November after she accused a high Chinese language chief of sexual assault, prompting a worldwide refrain of concern for her security. Then, the editor of a Communist Get together-controlled newspaper posted video clips that seem to indicate Ms. Peng consuming at a restaurant and attending a tennis occasion in Beijing. Days later, the Worldwide Olympic Committee mentioned its president had spoken along with her in a video call.

However the Girls’s Tennis Affiliation has mentioned it remained involved about Ms. Peng’s skill to speak freely and has referred to as for Beijing to analyze her accusations. The leaders of america Olympic and Paralympic Committee have voiced comparable worries. On Dec. 1, the tennis affiliation introduced that it was suspending all tournaments in China, together with Hong Kong.

The Biden administration and United Nations human rights workplace have joined the calls for Beijing to offer proof of Ms. Peng’s well-being.

The suspicions that Ms. Peng withdrew her accusation of sexual assault below official duress are unlikely to be placated by a video interview that she did with a Singaporean newspaper on Sunday. Ms. Peng instructed the Lianhe Zaobao newspaper that she had not been sexually assaulted, and that her account of what occurred had been misunderstood. She additionally mentioned that she was not below official watch and was free to maneuver round.

However China’s authoritarian authorities has a protracted document of coercing and cajoling folks to denounce or retract feedback that erode the standing of the Communist Get together. And human rights teams have mentioned Ms. Peng has most likely acted below such strain.

With just a few months to go earlier than Beijing hosts the 2022 Winter Olympic Video games, Ms. Peng’s scenario has change into one other level of rigidity in China’s fractious relationship with the broader world. The USA, Australia and different Western governments have mentioned they will not send authorities officers or diplomats to the video games, though their athletes will participate.

Peng Shuai, 35 — her household identify is pronounced “pung,” and the top of her given identify rhymes with “why” — is a three-time Olympian whose tennis profession started greater than 20 years in the past.

In February 2014, after profitable the doubles crown at Wimbledon with Hsieh Su-wei of Taiwan the yr earlier than, Ms. Peng rose to change into a world No. 1 in doubles, the primary Chinese language participant, male or feminine, to achieve the highest rank in both singles or doubles. She and Ms. Hsieh took the 2014 French Open doubles title as nicely.

Her doubles profession underwent a resurgence in 2016 and 2017. However in 2018, she was barred from professional play for six months, with a three-month suspension, after she was discovered to have tried to make use of “coercion” and monetary incentives to vary her Wimbledon doubles associate after the sign-in deadline. She has not competed professionally since early 2020.

Late within the night on Nov. 2, Ms. Peng posted a protracted notice on the Chinese language social platform Weibo that exploded throughout the Chinese language web.

Within the publish, she accused Zhang Gaoli, 75, a former vice premier, of inviting her to his house about three years in the past and coercing her into intercourse. “That afternoon, I didn’t consent at first,” she wrote. “I used to be crying all the time.”

She and Mr. Zhang started a consensual, if conflicted, relationship after that, she wrote.

Inside minutes, censors scrubbed Ms. Peng’s account from the Chinese language web. A near-blackout on her accusations has been in place ever since.

Girls in China who come ahead as victims of sexual assault and predation have lengthy been met with censorship and pushback. Ms. Peng’s account, which has not been corroborated, was the primary to implicate a high-level Communist Get together chief. That will clarify why the authorities have been further diligent in silencing all dialogue of the matter, at one level even blocking on-line searches for the phrase “tennis.”

Zhang Gaoli had served from 2012 to 2017 on China’s high ruling physique, the Politburo Standing Committee, making him one of many nation’s strongest males.

Mr. Zhang had climbed steadily from running an oil refinery to a succession of management posts alongside China’s fast-growing coast, and had prevented the scandals and controversy that felled different, flashily bold politicians.

He turned identified, if for something, for his monotone impersonality. On coming into China’s high management, he invited folks to seek for something amiss in his habits.

“Stern, low-key, taciturn,” summed up one of many few profiles of him in the Chinese media. His pursuits, Xinhua news agency mentioned, included books, chess and tennis.

The censors may need succeeded had Steve Simon, the top of the Girls’s Tennis Affiliation, not spoken out on Nov. 14, calling on Beijing to analyze Ms. Peng’s accusations and cease making an attempt to bury her case.

On Dec. 1, the tennis affiliation introduced it was ending all tournaments in China, together with Hong Kong. Mr. Simon cited considerations about Ms. Peng’s security, and added in an announcement that “until China takes the steps we’ve requested for, we can not put our gamers and workers in danger by holding occasions in China.”

By pulling out of China, the tour stands to lose tons of of tens of millions of {dollars} within the coming years.

The Worldwide Olympic Committee mentioned that it was participating in “quiet diplomacy” to untangle the scenario. And on Nov. 21, the committee mentioned its president, Thomas Bach, spoke with Ms. Peng for half an hour that day by video. She instructed Mr. Bach and two different I.O.C. officers that “she is secure and nicely, residing at her house in Beijing, however wish to have her privateness revered,” the committee mentioned. A photograph of Ms. Peng smiling on a big display in entrance of Mr. Bach appeared alongside the committee’s announcement.

After the committee shared the information, the W.T.A. mentioned it remained involved. Ten days later, Mr. Simon introduced the tour’s withdrawal from China.

“Whereas we now know the place Peng is, I’ve critical doubts that she is free, secure and never topic to censorship, coercion and intimidation,” he said.

The subsequent day, the I.O.C. introduced it had held a second video name with Ms. Peng, however launched no particulars of what was mentioned, who was on the decision, or the way it had been organized.

Fellow tennis luminaries — together with Naomi Osaka, Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Serena Williams, Rafael Nadal and Billie Jean King — have spoken out in help of Ms. Peng. The Spanish soccer star Gerard Piqué posted with the hashtag #WhereIsPengShuai to his 20 million Twitter followers.

Just about nothing. Not formally, no less than.

As an alternative, Chinese language state-run information organizations and their staff have been the only quasi-official voices from the nation to weigh in. Notably, they’re doing so on Twitter, which is blocked inside China. Their messages look like aimed particularly at persuading the broader world, whereas home Chinese language media shops stay silent at house.

First, a Chinese language state broadcaster posted an email on Twitter, written in English and attributed to Ms. Peng, that disavowed the assault accusation and mentioned she was simply “resting at house.” Mr. Simon dismissed the email as a crude fabrication and mentioned it solely deepened his considerations for the tennis star’s security. (In her newest interview, Ms. Peng mentioned that the e-mail was a translation of an announcement she had written in Chinese language, and that it mirrored her views.)

Then, Hu Xijin, the editor in chief of the Communist Get together-controlled newspaper World Occasions, started sharing movies along with his 450,000 Twitter followers that appeared to indicate Ms. Peng.

On Nov. 21, Mr. Hu posted one other clip, which he mentioned had been shot by a World Occasions worker, that reveals Ms. Peng on the opening ceremony of a tennis occasion in Beijing.

Ms. Peng did the temporary interview with the Singaporean newspaper whereas she was attending an occasion in Shanghai to advertise cross-country snowboarding. A Chinese language journalist additionally shared video on Twitter of her assembly Yao Ming, the towering Chinese language former basketball star, on the ski occasion.

The Girls’s Tennis Affiliation was not persuaded by the pictures.

“As we’ve constantly acknowledged, these appearances don’t alleviate or tackle the W.T.A.’s important considerations about her well-being and talent to speak with out censorship or coercion,” the affiliation mentioned.


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