What is China hiding? Suspicion deepens over tennis player’s case

It can be said that China itself has amplified criticism from the international community over the nation’s suppression of human rights and free speech by concealing information. China must not be allowed to draw a curtain over the situation as it is.

Chinese professional women’s tennis player Peng Shuai has accused a former Chinese vice premier on a Twitter-like Chinese social media site, claiming that he forced her to have a sexual relationship with him without her consent. Peng is a two-time Grand Slam women’s doubles champion.

The post was immediately deleted, but news of it has spread across the internet. It has become a matter of global concern as tennis officials and others voiced their worry over Peng’s safety one after another, saying that they have not been able to contact her.

The subsequent developments involve many mysterious events.

The Chinese government seems to be trying to pretend that her accusation itself was never made. The issue has not been reported in China, and relevant information is blocked on social media. A search of the name of Peng together with that of the former vice premier reportedly yielded no results.

On the other hand, the Chinese government has used Twitter, which ordinary Chinese citizens are prohibited from using, to send messages overseas claiming that Peng denies the accusation, and to release videos of what the Chinese government calls Peng’s recent situation.

As the White House and the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights have expressed concern over Peng’s safety, the Chinese government is apparently trying hard to bring the situation under control as soon as possible.

The pinnacle of the mysterious events is International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach talking with Peng over a video call. From her home in Beijing, Peng reportedly said she was safe and healthy and she asked her privacy to be respected.

Bach was accompanied by a Chinese IOC official. It remains questionable to what extent Peng was able to speak freely. The Women’s Tennis Association (WTA), which supports Peng, maintains that concerns have not been dispelled.

As China and the IOC are in the same position in their desire to avoid a negative impact on the Beijing Winter Olympics in February next year, a question remains as to whether the IOC is taking steps to help Beijing.

The IOC should clearly explain how the video meeting took place and how it coordinated with the Chinese government in advance for it.

In China, human rights lawyers and others considered critical of the regime have been placed under surveillance by the authorities and barred from communication and contact with outsiders.

The international community considers the case of Peng to be similar to these examples. Even if the Chinese government makes propaganda efforts in this case, it may not help resolve deep-rooted distrust.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Nov. 25, 2021.