The Peng Shuai affair: doubts not dispelled

Tennis star Peng Shuai has gone missing after accusing China's former vice premier Zhang Gaoli of sexual assault. In the wake of mounting international pressure Chinese state media shared videos that purportedly show her out and about and well. IOC chief Thomas Bach has meanwhile stated that the athlete had assured him on a video call that she was fine. The press is not at all convinced, however.

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St. Galler Tagblatt (CH) /

Betrayal of an athlete

For the St. Galler Tagblatt the situation is a farce in which the IOC is playing a sordid role:

“What did the IOC do when it heard the cry for help of a three-time Olympic participant? What did Thomas Bach, a former foil fencer and thus a master at dodging and feinting, do? He didn't say a word. ... Only when a Chinese state media published an alleged statement by Peng in which she claimed to be well and that she wanted to be left in peace did Bach's IOC announce: 'We are encouraged by the assurances that she is safe'. ... Instead of applying maximum pressure, demanding an investigation and calling for change, the IOC is kowtowing to China - because they are caught in the stranglehold of tyranny and commerce.”

The Irish Times (IE) /

Victims remain silent for a little freedom

The case illustrates how the regime in Beijing silences critical voices, The Irish Times comments:

“The disappearances in China in recent years of a number of high-profile public personalities have on several occasions been followed by their low-profile re-emergence. And their unwillingness then to comment on their plight suggests strongly they have been offered a partial freedom in return for their silence. ... Beijing will have to do far more to convince the world that Peng is not subject to coercion. Unfettered access must be granted to the tennis player who must be guaranteed the right to travel freely abroad.”

La Stampa (IT) /

Beijing cannot control global stars

Peng could still become dangerous for head of state Xi, La Stampa believes:

“Her absence from the sporting world is shaking up politics. The more invisible she is, the more visible she becomes. The more Beijing keeps quiet about her disappearance, the more deafening the silence becomes. ... Xi Jinping is on track to stay in power for life, like Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping. But even when you're firmly on the podium you can still slip on a banana peel. The queen of women's doubles is putting the almost omnipotent Chinese president in danger. The ongoing MeToo wave has already brought down many powerful people. Maybe not in China, but Peng Shuai belongs to the sphere of global stars who are ruled by no one. Especially not from the corridors of the Forbidden City.”

ABC (ES) /

China has nothing to offer beyond goods

ABC reflects on the potential ramifications of this affair for China:

“When MeToo emerged in the US, the official Chinese press wrote that such debauchery could only happen in capitalist countries, whereas China remained pure and women equal to men there. ... This affair, which will no doubt trigger a wave of similar affairs, will hinder China's campaign to portray itself as an exemplary society. The image of communist China was already at a low point: two years of Covid-19, which started in Wuhan, the takeover of Hong Kong, the threats against Taiwan, the incarceration of the Uighur, the tightened censorship. ... The new China has nothing to export that is not material: the 21st century will not be Chinese. ... And it is particularly interesting that the rebellion is coming from a woman.”

Le Monde (FR) /

Europe should also start thinking about a boycott

The hopes for an opening up of China inspired by the 2008 Beijing Olympics were disappointed, Le Monde points out:

“Thirteen years later, the West's illusions have been shattered by Xi Jinping's concentration of power and the regime's authoritarian orientation. Even before the Peng Shuai affair took on wider dimensions, US President Joe Biden had already envisaged a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics to protest human rights violations in China. ... This eventuality is now practically turning into a certainty. This is an option that the European delegations will soon have to consider.”