Tennis Star Peng Shuai’s Safety Is Impossible to Prove, Experts Say

Peng Shuai with tennis racket in hand
by Sebastian Hughes


Several international organizations have demanded verifiable proof of tennis star Peng Shuai’s safety, but experts told the Daily Caller News Foundation that obtaining such evidence from the Chinese government is practically impossible.

“Until the communist regime falls, Peng is probably going to remain under custody in China,” Gordon G. Chang, author of “The Coming Collapse of China,” told the DCNF.

Peng  disappeared from public life after posting an accusation of sexual assault against former top Chinese official Zhang Gaoli. Though she has since reemerged, concern remains over her well-being.

“I think probably, at this point, the endgame is that she’s allowed to leave the country,” Kelley Eckels Currie, former U.S. ambassador-at-large for Global Women’s Issues, told the DCNF. However, she said the probability of that happening was unlikely, and even if she did escape, “as long as she has family in the country, they’ll be able to … threaten her.”

Currie said that Peng was unlikely to be harmed, but emphasized she was likely facing “intense psychological pressure” because the Chinese government would have made clear how her family would be at “grave risk” if she steps out of line.

“A lot of them seek to tear apart families limb by limb because they really recognize that family is a fundamental building block of society,” Olivia Enos, senior policy analyst in the Asian Studies Center at The Heritage Foundation, told the DCNF of the Chinese government’s tactics.

She cited the genocide of Uyghur Muslims as another example, as they “don’t just send mom and dad off to the political prison camps. They also take the children to reduction centers where they’re indoctrinated.”

Chang vouched for the Chinese government’s ability to go after families, specifying that it was not just their physical safety that was at risk. A person’s family could lose the right to travel freely, to buy an apartment, or to enroll their child in school, he said.

Because Peng interacted with the international community throughout her career in tennis, Enos said she believes the athlete must have known exactly what would happen if she posted her accusation. That, she said, is what makes her decision so shocking.

“Maybe she had just reached a breaking point,” Enos speculated. Currie agreed, especially given the way sexual assault allegations are treated in China.

“It’s a nightmare,” Currie said. “There have been several recent, high profile, kind of ‘Me Too’ cases in China. They’ve not gone particularly well for the women who have been involved.”

While the U.S. has made progress addressing sexual assault, Currie argued the reverse has happened in China, in part due to the government’s efforts to encourage women to have more children as the country faces an aging demographic.

She described a “heavy-handed pressure” campaign by the communist regime to get women to marry at an earlier age and prevent couples from getting divorced. Chinese women have increasingly needed to secure permission from the party to get divorced, leading some to be murdered by abusive husbands, Currie said.

“That’s what makes Peng’s accusations unprecedented. She’s accusing someone who was a Vice Premier of the state,” Chang said. “She put herself in the firing line in more ways than one. This is one of the bravest acts of any person I have seen in China.”

Chang was also surprised by the Women’s Tennis Association’s consistent calls for proof of Peng’s safety, in spite of its increased financial ties to China. On Wednesday, WTA Chairman and CEO Steve Simon announced it would suspend all tournaments in China because the organization’s concerns had not been addressed.

“I have always thought that there was going to be a tipping point. There was going to be a point where a sporting association would not take the path followed by the NBA,” Chang said. “I didn’t know when that tipping point would be. I’m surprised that it is so early and the world owes a debt of gratitude to the WTA and to Steve Simon.”

“That’s not normally what happens,” Currie concurred. “I’ve been working on human rights in China for 25 years, I’ve never seen anything quite like this, frankly speaking, where you have an entity that’s willing to put money at risk.”

Chang lambasted the International Olympic Committee, which is set to host the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing in February, for taking the opposite approach. The tennis star appeared in a video call with members of the IOC almost three weeks after she went missing, claiming to be safe and asking for privacy.

Dick Pound, a member of the IOC since 1978, said Wednesday that the “unanimous conclusion” of the organization was that Peng was “fine.”

“The IOC is complicit with China,” Chang said. “This is disgusting and repulsive and the world should condemn the IOC for making such a statement.”

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Sebastian Hughes is a reporter at Daily Caller News Foundation.
Photo “Peng Shuai” by Robbie Mendelson CC BY-SA 2.0.





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