The case of the tennis star is highlighting human rights abuses in China and reigniting calls for a diplomatic boycott of the Winter Olympics
A social media post that vanished within minutes is reverberating around the world, weeks later. The most personal of matters has become a diplomatic issue. The tennis player Peng Shuai’s allegation that a former senior Chinese leader, Zhang Gaoli, had sexually assaulted her was unprecedented. It inevitably prompted grave concerns for her – only increased by subsequent stage-managed appearances and a message that the initial claim was untrue and everything was fine, all relayed via state media outlets or employees (though only to readers outside the country).
There is nothing new about people disappearing after angering China’s authorities. Nor is there anything new about “proof of life” videos emerging, or about forced letters and filmed testimonies. The tone and content of Peng’s purported email to the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) and video call with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) seem remarkably familiar: nothing was ever wrong and she would like people to stop talking about her. As the WTA said, these do not address the questions about her wellbeing and ability to communicate without censorship or coercion. Still less do they touch upon her accusation, which Chinese authorities have not addressed beyond complaining of “malicious hyping” of the case.