We should still be worried about the well-being of Peng Shuai, the Chinese tennis star who accused a senior Chinese Communist Party official of sexual assault. Within minutes of posting her accusation of Xi Jinping’s former vice-premier on Weibo, the Chinese social-media platform, Shuai’s post was scrubbed, references to her were removed from the Chinese Internet, and for over two weeks nobody could find her.
Then, presumably in response to the international backlash, the CCP embarked on a damage-control campaign. On November 17, the CCP’s propaganda network put out a photo of Peng Shuai with a message supposedly from her, saying “I’m not missing, nor am I unsafe. I’ve just been resting at home and everything is fine.” Following that, similarly contrived-looking pictures and footage emerged of Shuai playing with a cat and eating dinner with her coach.
On December 19, a supposedly spontaneous interview Shuai did with a Singaporean journalist (for a pro-Beijing publication) at a Shanghai skiing event emerged. In the video, Shuai speaks of “many misunderstandings” and says, “I must emphasize I have never said or wrote about anyone sexually assaulting me.” She also denies being under surveillance, insisting “I have always been free.”
How is anyone to take this seriously? I am reminded of when China’s ambassador to the U.K. was confronted with video footage showing what experts identified as Uyghur people tied up, in blindfolds, with shaved heads, being herded into trains in northern China — the CCP’s representative’s response was to imply that the footage was unreliable and say that “sometimes you have a transfer of prisoners, in any country.” Language of this kind is, as Orwell famously put it, “designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”
Only an independent investigation can confirm Peng Shuai’s well-being. World leaders and the international tennis community should continue to push for exactly that.
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