Yaxue Cao | China Change
“The Beijing Olympics and the Faces of Repression” – A Testimony by Yaxue Cao Founder and Editor of China Change
Chair Merkley, Co-Chair McGovern, Members of the Commission, thank you for holding this hearing and for asking me to share my thoughts on the case of the Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai. Indeed, Peng Shuai has become a special kind of political prisoner.
Peng Shuai revealed how she was forced into a sexual relationship with Zhang Gaoli, former vice-premier and member of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Politburo Standing Committee. Despite repeated reassurances from the Chinese government and the International Olympic Committee, questions about her wellbeing remain.
I will address these two aspects of the Peng Shuai incident.
China’s treatment of Peng Shuai followed a familiar playbook to suppress dissent and quell unwanted international attention, namely, censorship, denial of sexual assault allegations, a concerted propaganda campaign, and a staged TV confession.
Both Peng Shuai’s Weibo post and her account were deleted. A WTA-affiliated WeChat account posts only news and photos of tennis events. Chinese netizens are censored for mentioning Peng Shuai or the WTA. In short, the Chinese government has erased any discussion about Peng Shuai inside China.
Outside China, Chinese overseas state media and the IOC have carried out a propaganda campaign. In an email purportedly from Peng Shuai to WTA (and tweeted by CGTN, a Washington, DC-based Chinese state media broadcasting in English), “Peng Shuai” denied sexual assault allegations, and asked that the WTA cease to talk about her without her consent.
Immediately after the WTA announced suspension of tournaments in China, the IOC issued a statement, parroting CCP’s official language on “human rights”. It preached “person-centered approach,” urged “quiet diplomacy” to Address concerns over Peng Shuai “directly with Chinese sports organisations”. Such unlikely unison raises suspicions that the IOC was coordinating with the CCP to suppress the matter.
In mid-December, a pro-Beijing newspaper in Singapore posted a video interview with Peng Shuai in which she stated that she had never accused anyone of sexually assaulting her; and that she had no reason to travel overseas.
The most important takeaway from this interview may not be immediately obvious to everyone, and it is this: the Chinese government doesn’t really care whether you recognize the interview is staged or not. By getting Peng Shuai to say what she is scripted to say, China establishes the new ground for going forward: Now that Peng Shuai herself has spoken, what else do you want?
So what comes next? Since Chinese player Li Na won the French Open in 2011, interest in women’s tennis skyrocketed in China. By 2019, before the pandemic, the WTA was holding over 20 events a year in China. In 2018, the WTA signed a 10-year contract with China to hold its season finals in Shenzhen. China needs the WTA to develop women’s tennis, and the WTA was poised to expand into the Chinese market and profit big.
So far, the WTA is not backing down from its demands for verifiable proof of Peng Shuai’s safety and an investigation into her allegation of sexual assault. The WTA also confirmed that they have not been able to speak to Peng Shuai “in an environment where we know she is not being really controlled.”
After the Winter Olympics, we will see more CCP maneuvers to try to bring the WTA to its knees. China has gotten used to foreign businesses bowing to its demands, the WTA’s position is an unacceptable offense.
Nobody is against money, but what our businesses, universities, and sports leagues don’t seem to fully grasp is that, to eat at the CCP’s pig trough, you will have to turn into a pig, shed away your principles. It’s long past due that we have a hard look at the way we strike deals with the CCP China, and if we don’t, we stand to lose ourselves in the process. It’s already happening. Thank you very much.
Watch the hearing in full.