China Stays Silent on WTA Decision to Suspend Events Over Peng
(Bloomberg) -- The World Tennis Association held nine events in China in 2019, the year before the pandemic hit, including its marquee finals at the end of the season. During Peng Shuai’s heyday as a No. 1 doubles player, the Asian nation’s state media referred to her as a “golden flower.”
Yet on Thursday, China’s media was completely silent after the tennis body suspended events in the world’s second-biggest economy because the government had failed to address its concerns that Peng is free and safe after she alleged that a top Communist Party official pressured her for sex during a rocky yearslong affair.
The silence contrasts with state-backed condemnations of other companies that have spoke out about human rights concerns in China, including Hennes & Mauritz AB earlier this year. That’s likely due to the sensitivity of the case, which involves allegations against retired official Zhang Gaoli, once the seventh most-powerful man in the country.
The party’s flagship People’s Daily contained nothing on the WTA decision, a rare challenge to Beijing by a foreign business, instead leading its news website with a story about President Xi Jinping’s influence on ideological work in the nation’s education system.
China Daily, whose news website says it links the Asian nation with the world, highlighted a story about Xi’s plans to attend via video link an event to mark the opening of a railroad line to Laos. The official Xinhua News Agency, which has offices from New York to Africa, hasn’t yet filed a report about the episode.
Hu Xijin, editor of the nationalist Global Times newspaper backed by the party who has been the most outspoken on Peng, hadn’t tweeted about either the WTA or Peng as of Thursday morning, though he did post a video of an interview with Russian President Vladimir Putin. In the past few weeks Hu has tweeted that Peng’s public appearances should be enough to ease concern about her well-being.
The WTA said in a statement Thursday that it was suspending events in China due to concerns about Peng’s safety. The organization, which in 2018 inked a lucrative 10-year deal to hold the WTA Finals in Shenzhen, had earlier threatened to stop doing business in China if it failed to probe Peng’s 1,500-character essay on her relationship with Zhang.
China’s censors immediately scrubbed Peng’s message from her verified Weibo account, although screen shots were circulated. Peng then disappeared for weeks, prompting leading top players, the White House, the European Union and United Nations to raise concerns about her safety.
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