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World: The suspicious disappearance of tennis star Peng Shuai is straight out of China's playbook for forcing rogue celebrities into submission

Peng Shuai: Chinese state media release alleged email from tennis star amid worry over whereabouts

  Peng Shuai: Chinese state media release alleged email from tennis star amid worry over whereabouts The head of the Women's Tennis Association has cast doubt on an email claiming to be from Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai, saying it only raises further concerns for her safety. © Provided by CNN Naomi Osaka and Peng Shuai China's state-owned television broadcaster CGTN released the email, purportedly from Peng, in the early hours of Wednesday morning local time, amid growing international concern for her whereabouts. The email -- which has not been verified by CNN -- claimed Peng is fine and appears to walk back her sexual allegations against a former top Communist Party leader.

From left to right: Alibaba founder Jack Ma, the tennis player Peng Shuai, and the actor Fan Bingbing. Clive Brunskill/Costfoto/Barcroft Media/CG/VCG via Getty Images © Clive Brunskill/Costfoto/Barcroft Media/CG/VCG via Getty Images From left to right: Alibaba founder Jack Ma, the tennis player Peng Shuai, and the actor Fan Bingbing. Clive Brunskill/Costfoto/Barcroft Media/CG/VCG via Getty Images
  • Peng Shuai seemingly vanished after accusing a former Chinese official of sexual assault on Nov. 2.
  • It's common for China's elites to disappear after displeasing or criticizing the government.
  • This ruthlessness shows that in China, no one is above the law or — more importantly — the Communist Party.

The tennis star Peng Shuai, "X-Men" actress Fan Bingbing, and Alibaba founder Jack Ma were darlings of the Chinese state, symbols that Beijing's reach extended to Hollywood and Wall Street.

Serena Williams joins calls to find missing Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai: ‘I am devastated’

  Serena Williams joins calls to find missing Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai: ‘I am devastated’ Serena Williams is joining the calls to locate missing Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai. Williams spoke out on Twitter on Thursday, more than two weeks after Peng accused a former top Chinese government official of sexual assault. Peng has not been seen or heard from publicly since. “I am devastated and shocked to hear the news of my peer, Peng Shuai,” Williams wrote. “I hope she is safe and found as soon as possible. This must be investigated and we must not stay silent. Sending love to her and her family during this incredibly difficult time.

What the trio also have in common is that they vanished without notice after defying Beijing or embarrassing the nation.

This tactic — which comes alongside a mass, unopposed crackdown on lawyers, activists, and state critics — appears to be Beijing's go-to strategies to tackle disloyalty and prevent rebellion.

Fan vanished for three months in 2018 following revelations that she dodged millions of dollars in tax, only to return with a grovelling apology. Ma vanished for the same period in late 2020 after he criticized China's reluctance to innovate, coming back to say he had been "studying and thinking."

Peng, meanwhile, has not been heard from since she accused the former vice premier Zhang Gaoli of sexually assaulting her on November 2.

WTA CEO and U.N. take a stand over Peng Shuai’s disappearance

  WTA CEO and U.N. take a stand over Peng Shuai’s disappearance Virginia ended the first half with an impressive sequence, with Igor Milii Jr. getting the block on defense and then Armann Franklin picking up the ball and driving down the court for the layup plus a foul.

Peng Shuai at the Wuhan Open tennis tournament in 2019. Getty/Wang He © Provided by INSIDER Peng Shuai at the Wuhan Open tennis tournament in 2019. Getty/Wang He

These cases, and many others like it, follow the same plot: A high profile individual brings China into disrepute, they vanish for weeks, then either reemerge to repent or never return to public.

"They keep these people and they try to find some sort of arrangement," Konstantinos Tsimonis, a lecturer in Chinese society at the Lau China Institute at King's College London, told Insider.

"I think that's what we had with Jack Ma and I think that's what we're going to get with Peng Shuai," he said, adding that the Chinese government is likely thinking: "We want to make sure you don't talk anymore, so we don't have a reemergence of the #MeToo movement in the public sphere."

Tsimonis also cited the 2011 disappearance of the dissident artist Ai Weiwei, who was detained for 81 days without charge.

What we know about the apparent disappearance of a Chinese tennis star

  What we know about the apparent disappearance of a Chinese tennis star The tennis star accused a former Chinese government official of sexual assault. The United Nations called for an investigation into her allegations and whereabouts on Friday. Some of the biggest names in the international tennis world -- from Naomi Osaka to Serena Williams -- have also lent their voice to the global search for the former Grand Slam doubles champion, using the hashtag #WhereIsPengShuai.

"They made up some charges. The message was clear, and they only let him go when he agreed to stop talking," Tsimonis said. "This [trend] is worrying." (Ai left China in 2015 and has since openly criticized the Chinese government.)

Ai Weiwei waves from the entrance of his studio after being released on bail in Beijing. David Gray/Reuters © David Gray/Reuters Ai Weiwei waves from the entrance of his studio after being released on bail in Beijing. David Gray/Reuters

'This is the norm, not the exception'

China can get away with doing this to celebrities, and countless others, thanks to the vagaries of its legal system, and its power to suppress information on the internet.

"Proximity to the top levels of power — fame, money, power, a Nobel peace prize — do not buy you any added protection," Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch, told Insider.


Video: Star Tennis Player Peng Shuai Is Missing (QuickTake)

"This case has laid bare for yet another large global audience the truly arbitrary nature of power the Chinese government and party wield," she said, referring to Peng. "This happens all the time, this is the norm, not the exception."

Concern grows for tennis player who accused Chinese official of sexual assault

  Concern grows for tennis player who accused Chinese official of sexual assault The apparent disappearance of Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai has attracted the attention of the United Nations, Serena Williams, members of the U.S. Congress, and other international, high-profile individuals. © Provided by Washington Examiner Peng, 35, seemingly had her social media censored by the Chinese government and had not been seen for weeks since she accused a former vice-premier of China of sexual assault. Celebrities and organizations that have typically been reluctant to speak out against human rights concerns in China have publicly expressed their concerns over the case.

Then-Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli, whom Peng accused of sexual assault, photographed in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia in August 2017. Bandar Algaloud/Courtesy of Saudi Royal Court/Handout via Reuters © Bandar Algaloud/Courtesy of Saudi Royal Court/Handout via Reuters Then-Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli, whom Peng accused of sexual assault, photographed in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia in August 2017. Bandar Algaloud/Courtesy of Saudi Royal Court/Handout via Reuters

In a way, Peng and Ma's disappearances weren't surprising, as criticism of the country and its officials are effectively attacks on the Communist Party.

"The state protects its own at the end of the day," Roderic Wye, a former British Embassy official in Beijing, told Insider. "Accusing a senior state official is verging on, or is actually seen as, a serious crime against state security."

Steve Tsang, director of the China Institute at London's School of African and Oriental Studies, agreed in his remarks.

"For a young female celebrity accusing a former PBSC of a sexual crime is just unacceptable, as it could set a precedent for others to be so challenged," he said, referring to the Communist Party's powerful Politburo Standing Committee.

How it ends

Peng is well known internationally, so, like with Ma and Fan, it is possible she will reemerge.

"It makes it more difficult for her to be completely disappeared or dealt with. There will be people asking questions" Wye said.

"She would have to make some sort of fulsome retraction" to return to public life, he said.

Opinion: IOC backs China and Beijing Games instead of condemning treatment of Peng Shuai, Uyghurs

  Opinion: IOC backs China and Beijing Games instead of condemning treatment of Peng Shuai, Uyghurs Tennis player Peng Shuai has barely been seen or heard since making sexual assault allegations Nov. 2 against former high-ranking Chinese official.The supposedly “neutral” IOC was a willing participant Sunday in the Chinese government’s efforts to whitewash its troubling treatment of tennis player Peng Shuai, who has barely been seen and still has not been heard from in an independent format since accusing a former high-ranking official of sexual assault nearly three weeks ago.

One of those who apologized to win back their freedom is Fan.

After China made Fan repay 479 million yuan ($70 million) in 2019, she issued a groveling apology on the microblogging site Weibo in which she said she was "deeply ashamed." Then, in an interview with The New York Times, she practically thanked Beijing for vanishing her.

Since then, her social media posts have carried a nationalist tinge.

Fan Bingbing at the Cannes Film Festival in May 2018, two months before her disappearance. Eric Gaillard/Reuters © Eric Gaillard/Reuters Fan Bingbing at the Cannes Film Festival in May 2018, two months before her disappearance. Eric Gaillard/Reuters

That said, some disappearances in China remain a mystery.

In August, the actress Zhao Wei vanished abruptly, and Chinese streaming sites pulled down her TV shows and films. Though no reason was given for her disappearance, Chinese state media — which can be considered an extension of the state — said she was "surrounded with lawsuits" and noted she was banned in 2017 from trading in China's securities markets for unspecified "market violations."

Another member of China's elite who vanished is Ren Zhiqiang, the former chairman of the property behemoth Huayuan.

In a March 2020 essay, Ren launched a thinly-veiled attack on Chinese President Xi Jinping, comparing him to "a clown who stripped naked and insisted on continuing being emperor." The Chinese Communist Party expelled Ren as a member in June and he was subsequently sentenced to 18 years in prison over corruption charges.

On Wednesday, the Chinese state broadcaster CGTN published an English-language email claiming to be from Peng, which retracted the allegation against Zhang and said she was safe.

The email has not been verified and, instead of alleviating people's fears, it only increased concerns for Peng's safety.

Steve Simon, the chairman of the Women's Tennis Association, said in a statement on Thursday: "Her allegation of sexual assault must be respected, investigated with full transparency and without censorship."

"The voices of women need to be heard and respected, not censored nor dictated to."

Read the original article on Business Insider

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