Three cheers: WTA quits China over its treatment of Peng Shuai, forfeiting millions of dollars

Rob Griffith

Is it too much to hope that the precedent established here will shame more western companies into pulling out of China?

Probably. Just three days ago, Disney+ quietly blocked users in Hong Kong from accessing an old episode of “The Simpsons.” That episode showed the family visiting Tiananmen Square and discovering a monument that read, “On this site, in 1989, nothing happened.” “It appears the episode has suffered precisely the kind of censorship it was written to ridicule,” The Hollywood Reporter sniffed.

The fact that other western organizations are too venal and cowardly to pull the plug on China makes today’s show of principle by the WTA that much more admirable. Twelve days ago WTA chair Steve Simon threatened to pull out of China if Beijing didn’t reassure them of Peng’s well-being to the group’s satisfaction. He wasn’t bluffing. This afternoon Simon and the WTA’s board made good on his threat. You should read their new statement in full, but here’s the key:

“To further protect Peng and many other women throughout the world, it is more urgent than ever for people to speak out,” Simon goes on to say. Twenty-four hours ago, news broke about the extent to which the highest powers in the Chinese government are responsible for the abuse of Chinese women — and men, of course:

A newly published cache of documents directly links top Chinese leaders including President Xi Jinping to the state’s crackdown on Uyghur Muslims…

The documents, branded the ‘Xinjiang Papers’, after the region which is home to most of China’s Uyghurs, reveal how Chinese Communist party (CCP) leaders including Mr Xi and Premier Li Keqiang made statements which directly led to policies affecting the Uyghurs and other Muslims.

These include forced internments, mass sterilisations, forced assimilation, “re-education”, and coercion of detained Uyghurs to work in factories.

It’s surreal that the disappearance of one tennis player might cause a sharper fracture between China and the west than Beijing’s years-long operation of a system of concentration camps for religious minorities has, but we’ve all read that (apocryphal) Stalin quote and digested its bitter truth.

The WTA bailing out of China won’t get Disney or the NBA to pull out but it will give Americans critics a useful line of attack against them. “If the WTA cares enough about human rights to boycott China, why don’t you?” Long-term, that logic may wear down some American corporations. Short-term, it’ll put extra wind in the sails of the eleventh-hour movement to organize a western boycott of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics. Biden is reportedly considering a diplomatic boycott of the Games; some Republican politicians have called for a total boycott. Having the WTA walk away to protest Peng’s treatment makes the International Olympic Committee’s complicity with China look even more disgusting than it already did.

Compare Simon’s righteous statement above to this skin-crawling interview with IOC official Dick Pound from a few days ago. Pound palpably couldn’t care less about Peng’s fate. The CCP put Peng on camera for half an hour so now it’s time for everyone to let it go and cash the check:

That’s not the first time lately that the IOC has run interference for China to protect its bottom line. It won’t be the last.

Outfits like the NBA will probably try to distinguish their situation from the WTA’s by arguing that the WTA naturally has an obligation to protect one of its own. If Yao Ming were still active in American basketball and the CCP disappeared him, we might be told, then the NBA would certainly take action. (Spoiler: It wouldn’t.) The IOC doesn’t get to use that logic, though, since Peng Shuai is a three-time Olympian. She’s “one of their own.” What are they going to do for her besides rubber-stamping a ChiCom propaganda video purporting to show that she’s fine and that she’s forgotten all about that silly business where she was allegedly raped by the former vice premier?