December 6, 2021

Women’s Tennis Follows Through

As a result of continuing concerns for Peng Shuai, the WTA suspended tournaments in China.

The Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) has officially announced that it is pulling out of China until further notice. This is a direct result of ongoing concerns for tennis star and Chinese citizen Peng Shuai. Peng accused a high Chinese official of sexual assault and was quickly silenced and censored by the communist government.

The WTA had voiced its intentions to withdraw if the Chinese couldn’t prove that Peng was safe, well, and not censored. The continued censorship of Peng’s media posts and the obviously coerced appearances have not convinced WTA Chairman and CEO Steve Simon that any of these demands have been met on Peng’s behalf.

Peng has been permitted to make two video calls with the head of the International Olympic Committee, but has not, as far as we know, made video contact with the WTA. It is concerning that the Chinese government is letting her make contact only with the IOC, since Beijing knows it can more easily satisfy that organization. After all, the ICO is more concerned with quiet diplomacy and losing the 2022 Olympics than about Peng herself.

This latest stand has met with contrasting messages from Beijing. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is sticking to its story that it’s “unaware” of Peng’s being in a difficult situation, and yet last week Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Zhao Lijian scolded Western media for “deliberately and maliciously hyping” the issue.

Beijing also has a radio silence among its people about the WTA pullout, which shows how uncertain the CCP is about being able to spin this story and maintain public support. The Chinese government is stirring the nationalist spirit amongst its citizens regarding Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Tibet, but Peng Shuai’s allegation against a powerful man might resonate with Chinese women who have already shown indications of sympathy for the #MeToo movement.

China is both furious at the outcry and fearful of its own citizens’ disapproval. It could spell trouble for neighboring nations if China begins to have domestic troubles — the CCP is most dangerous internationally when it’s facing internal issues.

The WTA pullout hits China on many fronts. It targets the CCP’s continuing disregard for human rights, and women’s rights especially; it could potentially cause internal turmoil amongst the Chinese people were they to find out the extend of the cover-up; and it hits China in the pocketbook. Ultimately, this is how you handle a bully like China: You stand up for your principles, stick up for your people, and do not back down or apologize.

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