WTA chief: We'll quit doing business in China if they don't produce Peng Shuai

Hats off to the Women’s Tennis Association, which refuses to bite its tongue when one of its own goes missing due to the ChiCom menace just because doing so would help its bottom line.

This isn’t a case of the players lying low to protect their endorsement deals while the organization speaks up, either. Tennis stars past, present, and future have sounded the alarm about Peng:

None of us should be under any illusions that China will change its behavior due to being publicly shamed in the west. If they cared about that, they wouldn’t have issued a transparently fraudulent “everything’s fine” statement in Peng’s name. But having the WTA and its stars call attention to Peng’s disappearance will help further delegitimize the regime in the eyes of westerners who don’t normally pay attention to foreign policy. And it might shame other western institutions that are inclined to keep quiet when China commits crimes in plain sight to acknowledge what’s happening before their eyes. There’s news today that the UN is now demanding proof of Peng’s well-being from Beijing. Would that have happened if the WTA had shrugged off her disappearance as a matter of internal Chinese politics?

Women’s tennis isn’t a mega-bucks business in China the way, say, the NBA is but they’ll be leaving real money on the table if they pull out. Steve Simon, the WTA’s chairman, swung a deal in 2018 that would have seen China hold the WTA Finals every year for the next decade. Nine tournaments were played there in 2019 alone, with room to grow. And Simon is known for his business savvy, per the WSJ. If there’s anyone you might expect to carefully weigh the financial health of his industry against the safety of a single Chinese player, it’s him.

But you’d be doing him a disservice, if so. The second half of the CNN interview embedded at the end of this post is almost shocking in the moral clarity Simon displays by threatening to quit China. “There’s too many times in our world today … that we let business, politics, money dictate what’s right and what’s wrong,” he says at one point. “We have to start as a world making decisions that are based upon right and wrong, period.” And then the real stunner: “This is bigger than the business.” Western corporate executives simply don’t talk that way. Nothing’s bigger than the business. A disgraceful case in point:

The Marriott hotel in Prague declined to host a conference of activists and leaders from China’s Uyghur diaspora this month, citing “political neutrality,” an email shared with Axios shows…

The conference organizers found Marriott’s response “shocking,” Arkin says, adding that none of the other hotels they reached out to expressed any concerns…

“It is chilling because of the broader concept of how China is really disrupting Western democracies,” she adds.

“Political neutrality”? About whether Uighurs should be sent to concentration camps or not?

There are some western athletes beyond the WTA who are willing to call China out. Not many, but here’s a glaring exception:

Kanter’s a special case because his own family lives under a tyrannical regime in Turkey; his criticism of Erdogan’s government and his devotion to the teachings of Fethullah Gulen earned him an arrest warrant in Turkey. Chinese oppression isn’t a financial calculus for him. It’s personal.

As for Peng, I wonder if the prospect of a western Olympics boycott to protest her treatment won’t lead China to free her soon. Kidnapping a professional athlete with the Games months away is a hell of a signal to send to countries that are already ambivalent about dispatching their athletes to Beijing to compete. But Peng is no ordinary political prisoner, remember. She wasn’t disappeared because she said something critical of China’s treatment of Hong Kong, she was disappeared because she accused the former vice premier of having sexually assaulted her. If China lets her go, she’s going to tell that tale. They may calculate that there’s less to lose for the regime by brazenly holding her hostage than by freeing her as a goodwill gesture so that she can alert the world to her firsthand experience with the monsters running the show there.