The Peng Shui Case: Beijing’s Disappearance, Reactions and Silence – What Happened?

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Chinese tennis star Peng Shui’s accusations against a former Chinese leadership official for sexual assault and what followed brought to light the reality of censorship and secrecy surrounding the regime’s leadership as Beijing prepares to be their friend. Winter Olympics.

The Chinese champion, winner of the Roland-Garros doubles in 2014, accused in early November former Deputy Prime Minister Zhang Gaoli of having sex with him for three years. And then Peng disappeared for three weeks. He appeared in a teleconference on Sunday with International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach, who assured him that he was OK.

The Women’s Tennis Association (WTA), which has threatened to pull out of China if Xi Jinping’s regime fails to respond to the tennis player’s allegations, remains cautious, while Western governments and tennis figures have called for evidence that Peng is safe.

Although international reactions have alarmed the regime, experts say the priority for Beijing, with its relatively newfound confidence, is to avoid resentment against the Communist Party and President Xi Jinping inside China. And this approach will be maintained as China will be on the international stage due to the Winter Olympics.

“For some years now, China has been responding to negative international attention either by giving unconvincing explanations or by stoically pretending to ignore criticism,” said Zhang Ming, a retired professor of political science at Renmin University.

Beijing’s censorship machine has allowed the regime to quell the scandal in China’s well-controlled domestic cyberspace. Censors quickly deleted Peng’s Weibo post on November 2, and the issue has been blocked from live online chats, forcing users to resort to language tricks to circumvent censorship.

But Beijing’s attempts to block the issue have provoked users abroad, and the Peng case has sparked calls from organizations and politicians for a boycott of the February Winter Olympics.

Chinese state media reporters’ efforts to allay the wave of concern abroad include Peng’s alleged email posted on Twitter by the director of the Global Times, in which the athlete wrote: “I’m resting at home and everything is fine.” The WTA and human rights groups have called them unconvincing. Moreover, Twitter is blocked in China and state journalists did not post the same content on Chinese social media platforms.

Officials in China often reiterate that “China must tell its story well” on the international stage, says David Bandurski of the China Media Project, a Hong Kong-based research organization.

“Suddenly, the Peng case brought to light the bankruptcy of those ambitions,” he said.

The Information Bureau of the State Council of China did not respond to a request for comment.

Initially, the Foreign Ministry said, when asked, that the case is not a diplomatic matter, despite concerns about the fate of the athlete from France, the United States and the United Kingdom.

Today, the Foreign Ministry spokesman spoke of “some” who “deliberately overemphasize” the case of tennis player Peng Shui with “hostile motives” and reduce her to a “political issue”.

“The thing people talk about”

As the Chinese government remained silent on Peng’s allegations, Global Times director Hu Xijin continued to comment on the case on Twitter, serving as a de facto messenger to the outside world. He did not mention Zhang Gaoli, the former deputy prime minister whom Peng denounced and merely referred to “the thing that people are talking about.”

“Those who suspect Peng Shui is under duress, how dark they must be inside! “There must be many, many political shows in their countries,” he wrote on Twitter on Sunday.

But the latest episode reinforces calls from international organizations and others accusing Beijing of its policy in Hong Kong and the treatment of the Uighur minority for boycotting the Winter Olympics. President Joe Biden has said that the United States is considering a diplomatic boycott, which would mean that US officials will not attend the inauguration ceremony.

Yesterday, the Global Times published a major article accusing the “anti-Chinese forces” of trying to create unrest before the Olympics, while it is not worth the trouble for China to waste energy on the issue. Peng is not mentioned at all.

Temporary disappearance from public life following a power struggle is common in China.

Alibaba founder Jack Ma has been missing for three months after criticizing Chinese regulators during a speech last October. Movie star, model, singer and TV producer Fan Bingbing, disappeared for four months in 2019 for no reason, until she was fined $ 120 million by the Chinese authorities for tax evasion.

A Chinese #MeToo movement started in 2018 and spread to universities, non-governmental organizations and the media, but was suppressed by the authorities, as no case of regime officials emerged.

The episode also shows the extreme secrecy surrounding China’s political elite, as few details of their personal lives are available in the public sphere. Zhang, who retired from public life in 2018, has not come out of obscurity to comment on the incident.

“The party must protect him. “The image of the party is at stake,” said Jean-Pierre Cabestan, a Chinese policy specialist at Baptist University in Hong Kong.

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