News & Politics

China Loses Control of the Peng Shuai Narrative as the World Demands Answers

(AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Peng Shuai, a world-class tennis player and Grand Slam doubles champion, is in the custody of the Chinese Communist government, and the world is demanding to know where she is.

Peng made serious and credible allegations of sexual assault against a high-ranking Chinese government official. The assault allegedly occurred three years ago. The online accusation was scrubbed, Peng was seized, and no one, except Communist lackeys in their state-controlled media, has seen or heard from her since she disappeared two weeks ago.

Nothing is guaranteed to make the Chinese Communists angrier than criticism of their policy of stifling internal dissent. Now, the entire world — not just the tennis community — has rallied to Peng’s cause.

Related: Peng Shuai Saga in China: Bravo to Women’s Tennis, Unlike the NBA

The Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) has promised to cancel all upcoming tournaments in China unless the Chinese show the world proof of life — and health. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is also mulling its options. China is scheduled to host the Winter Olympics this February and, while it’s extremely unlikely they would pull the event from Beijing, some kind of sanctions against Chinese athletes may be in the offing.

“If that’s not resolved in a sensible way very soon, it may spin out of control,” one IOC member told Reuters on Friday “Whether that escalates to a cessation of the Olympic Games, I doubt it. But you never know.”

Clearly, China has lost control of the narrative about Peng and will have a very difficult time maintaining its story. And if this is the best they have, they’re going to need some help.

Washington Post:

The scrutiny has already added to existing momentum for a boycott of the upcoming Winter Olympics. President Biden’s administration says it is “considering” a diplomatic boycott. China has dismissed accusations of human rights abuses and calls for a boycott as “distractions” from the Games.

Meanwhile, a Chinese state media journalist on Friday shared photos of Peng, which he said she posted on the messaging app WeChat along with the words “Happy weekend.” The editor of the state-run Global Times said Saturday that the athlete had “stayed in her own home freely” but “will show up in public and participate in some activities soon.”

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote of the old Soviet state, “In our country, the lie has become not just a moral category but a pillar of the State.” Indeed, the attempt to infantilize Peng by showing her with dozens of stuffed animals around her is a classic tactic to justify repression. Wayward children needing guidance, that sort of thing.

“Happy weekend.” In Solzhenitsyn’s day, they used to make newsreels of “happy” prisoners being worked to death in the Siberian gulags.  Nothing ever changes.

But the Communists kept trying. The editor of the Global Times, the international propaganda organ for the Chinese Communist Party, posted a video of Peng entering a restaurant.

“Happy, happy Peng.” It’s not clear at all when the video was shot, and with the state controlling the news, why should anyone trust what they say about the date and time?

WTA chairman Steve Simon said he was glad to see the footage but that it was not enough. “While it is positive to see her, it remains unclear if she is free and able to make decisions and take actions on her own, without coercion or external interference,” he said. “I have been clear about what needs to happen and our relationship with China is at a crossroads.”

Eventually, Ms. Peng will emerge, smiling and waving to her fans, and she’ll confess that the accusation of sexual assault against the former Chinese vice premier was a mistake, it never happened, and she’s sorry that her mental breakdown led to all this trouble.

That’s the way it’s done in China.