Looking for answers to the disappearance of Peng Shuai

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Tennis star Peng Shuai has disappeared following accusations of assault against a former top-ranking member of the Chinese Communist Party. The disappearance has left many concerned for Shuai’s safety. The Women’s Tennis Association claims that it will cut ties with China and refuse to host events in the country until Shuai’s whereabouts are known and her safety is ensured. 

In Orwell, there was a certain class and nuance attributed to authoritarian regimes when they would make people “disappear”. The Shuai incident is so deeply concerning because it is happening in the open, to someone well-known on the international stage. Now, the international community will decide whether they will finally stand up to China’s authoritarian policies. 

I always find it slightly unnerving when people are surprised by authoritarian actions by the Chinese Communist Party. They have been around for a century, and the principles of the Party have rarely changed. When somebody tells you who they are, especially in politics, you can learn a lot if you just listen to them. 

Conflict with China is much more challenging than conflict with countries that have smaller economies. Since the Chinese economy has become a global powerhouse, many of the country’s moral failings have been swept aside by international partners in favour of economic prosperity, usually while touting something about respecting sovereignty. But there comes a time when doing business with a country also has moral implications.

If Canada, or any other democratic country, chooses to engage with China like this incident never occurred, they do not believe in democratic principles. They instead care about profit, or calm, or appeasement. 

The first thing we must admit is that China is not pursuing democracy. It will not allow its people to vote for government. It will not allow for basic human rights such as the freedom of speech. And it engages in discrimination against minority groups (notably the Uyghur Muslim population) in a dystopian fashion. It is an insult to the people of China to say that these government policies will change on their own. 

Second, we should admit that the present authoritarian regime is not working for the best interests of its people. It is not as if the people of China have ceded their basic human rights for some temporary amount of time, after which human rights will flourish with a vibrant economy.    

The Chinese Communist Party wishes to retain authoritarian control of the people because the existence of the authoritarian system is a necessary condition for the continued existence of the party. They will never voluntarily give up power. 

If the change will not come voluntarily it must come from international pressure. Sports organizations pulling out of operations in China is a start, especially in the case of Peng Shuai. The media must now stay focused on finding the tennis star and ensure that she is allowed to tell her story and give testimony about the sexual assault committed against her. 

This may seem small in the grand scheme of an entire authoritarian regime, but if the international community can bring Peng Shuai back to safety, it is a moving victory. The Communist Party will no longer be seen as unbreakable. This will give hope to those without the same platform and reach as Peng Shuai.


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