Some time in the next few weeks the world will discover whether “ping pong diplomacy” — which 50 years ago brokered America’s détente with Communist China — will, in turn, see women’s tennis usher in a new Cold War. Certainly the West now finds itself in something of a crisis centering on a woman tennis player.
It began on November 2, when in a Chinese social media post, the former world no. 1 doubles women’s player, Peng Shuai, accused a former Communist Chinese vice premier, Zhang Gaoli, of sexual assault. The post disappeared 20 minutes later — and Ms. Peng along with it.
Since then, concerns have since grown for Ms. Peng. On November, 14, the head of the Women’s Tennis Association, Steve Simon, called for an investigation into her disappearance.
Leading from behind, the White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, announced on November 19 that President Biden wanted “verifiable” proof Ms. Peng was safe. The UN later let it be known that it, too, wanted, “proof of her whereabouts and wellbeing.”
The Communist Chinese state press went tit-for-tat, and the China Global Television Network volleyed back on November 17, sharing an alleged screenshot of a message Ms. Peng wrote, stating “everything is fine” and that “the allegation of sexual assault is not true.”
CGTN’s message was followed on November 19 with a photo of Ms. Peng holding a cat, a November 20 video on the Global Times website showing Ms. Peng having dinner with her coach, and a November 21 video of Ms. Peng at a youth tennis match.
On the same day, the president of the International Olympics Committee, Thomas Bach, chatted by video for 30 minutes with Ms. Peng, who said she was “safe.”
Nevertheless, this did little to assuage fears. For it failed to address the concerns of the Women’s Tennis Association head, Mr. Simon. He said that “it remains unclear” if Ms. Peng is “free and able to make decisions and take actions on her own, without coercion or external interference.”
Advantage Mr. Simon.
The consensus remains Ms. Peng likely made all recent self-contradictory statements under duress. China, after all, uses repressive tactics on its population. It has purportedly “disappeared” countless individuals, to say nothing of the more recent Xinjiang and Hong Kong crackdowns, let alone the Tiananmen Square Massacre of 1989.
The list of purported cases similar to Ms. Peng’s would include the disappearances of, say, business moguls Jack Ma, Duan Weihong, and Musajan Imam; actresses Fan Bingbing and Zhao Wei; artists and intellectuals Ai Weiwei and Perhat Tursun; as well as untold numbers of journalists, lawyers, activists, businessmen, doctors, and scientists.
All of them, foreshadowing Ms. Peng’s story, disappeared after running afoul of the Communist Party, only weeks later to reappear under irregular circumstances. Others were never heard from again. Yet, for whatever reason, Ms. Peng’s story has galvanized the public in ways previous disappearances did not.
Joseph Stalin is often quoted as saying, “The death of one is a tragedy. The death of millions is a statistic.” In like manner, could it be that — despite purported millions of Tibetan and Uyghur atrocities, atop hundreds of thousands of purged Party members, astride other untold extrajudicial turpitudes — Ms. Peng’s plight shall succeed where others have failed in proving to the West what Communist China always has been?
Could it also demonstrate that America is lacking for leadership, or willpower, to deal with the asymmetric threat China poses? By any metric, every institution that was to serve as the basis for international cooperation — UN, G20, WTO, WHO, IOC — has failed in spectacular fashion to cope with China’s flagrant disregard and exploitation of our world order. Yet somehow, the Women’s Tennis Association has more … gumption?
Image: Detail of a photograph of Ms. Peng, from Wikipedia Commons.