China’s playbook when confronted with criticism is neither crafty nor subtle: Deny, lie, play dumb, hope it goes away and, when all else fails, strike back ferociously. It’s all happening again in the case of Peng Shuai, the Chinese tennis star who crossed swords with the state by publicly accusing a former senior Politburo member of sexual assault.
After making the allegations in a Nov. 2 post on China’s popular Weibo social media platform, Ms. Peng vanished. Beijing’s disinformation machinery went into overdrive: Her charges disappeared from her social media account, and her name appeared to be blocked in searches. Foreign Ministry spokesmen insisted they were unaware of any sexual assault allegations, and questions and answers about Ms. Peng were omitted from official transcripts.
On Wednesday, Chinese state media published what it claimed was a screenshot of an email sent by Ms. Peng to the Women’s Tennis Association, saying that the allegations were untrue and “everything is fine.” This defies belief, and China must not be allowed to get away with it.
The professional tennis world has reacted with admirable and unequivocal ferocity. Steve Simon, the executive director of the W.T.A., demanded an investigation into Ms. Peng’s allegations. He declared that he is ready to pull the tour out of China. The governing body of men’s tennis, the Association of Tennis Professionals, joined in, with a statement declaring that it was “deeply concerned,” and a chorus of tennis players, including Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic, issued expressions of shock and concern. The United Nations called for an investigation with “full transparency,” and the White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, said the Biden administration calls for “verifiable proof” of Ms. Peng’s whereabouts.
All of this poses a serious challenge to China’s ruling Communist Party. Ms. Peng, 35, is not an obscure dissident. She is the