In a short video purportedly shot by a Chinese journalist for Singapore’s Chinese newspaper Lianhe Zaobao, Peng Shuai denied that she was ever sexually assaulted and she alleged that people who had read her shocking Weibo posting had misunderstood her. A pro-China local academic commented: “the plot thickens”.
On the contrary, this is an egregiously predictable outcome. The only curious thing is, why did it not happen earlier? The thing that ought to get our attention here in Singapore is that for the first couple of expositions, the Chinese authorities relied on journalists working for China Daily and CGTN. This time, they enlisted the help of our very own Lianhe Zaobao.
In the video below, commentator Tang Jing Yuan analysed the video released by Zaobao and highlighted many points indicative of fraud. The video showed the Zaobao journalist, apparently the only journalist there (even though there were many sporting celebrities at the scene), weaving through a crowd seemingly unnoticed and then approaching Peng Shuai who seemed well-prepared for the approach but quite maladroitly feigning an impromptu encounter.
Interestingly, Peng Shuai, without any hesitation whatsoever, jumped straight to the point and denied that her posting on Weibo implied that she had been sexually assaulted. It was all a misinterpretation by netizens. A person who has been following Peng Shuai from her dinner at a Beijing restaurant all the way to a skiing event at Shanghai in the latest video, was Ding Li – supposedly a trade sponsor for tennis in China. What was he doing in Shanghai? For that matter, what was he and Peng Shuai doing at a skiing event in Shanghai? Yao Ming and the other sporting personalities live in Shanghai. Obviously, Ding Li (who has practically no social media presence or content except for a few posts to dispel “rumours”) is not just a trade sponsor.
What’s also interesting about this latest exposition, is that it involved a foreign media company, namely Lianhe Zaobao or SPH. Mr Tang had bluntly called Lianhe Zaobao a propaganda instrument for Chinese state media. I can’t agree with Mr Tang that Zaobao has always been like that. Back in the early 2000s, my Chinese friends were very fond of Zaobao because they could read a relatively objective newspaper online. It was more serious compared to racy and sensational Apple Daily. However, they complained about Zaobao website being blocked whenever there was some unflattering content.
In recent years, however, Zaobao has undergone editorial remodelling to become the only foreign Chinese newspaper that is uncensored in China. With this privilege, one can only expect a certain level of compliance towards Chinese state media rules. Our astute Chinese commentators did some research on the “journalist” who interviewed Peng Shuai in the video. It turned out that she is a woman by the name of Gu Gonglei 顾功垒. Yes, she is a Chinese national. According to her Weibo, she is SPH assistant deputy CEO and Xingchen (Shanghai) Business Management Consultancy general manager (my translation; not sure about the official English name). The consultancy is believed to be effectively an advertising department under Zaobao. In other words, Gu Gonglei is not a journalist with a press pass hanging around her neck but a media advertising manager who somehow happened to stumble on a journalist-free entourage of Shanghai sporting personalities without being stopped or checked, spotting Peng Shuai by chance and Peng Shuai was apparently free to simply accept her impromptu interview while everyone just scattered. It’s yet another embarrassing performance. This shouldn’t even happen with athletes who are not facing controversy, let alone Peng Shuai. They tried too hard to show that Peng Shuai had freedom.
While Peng Shuai did not deny that the incriminating posting was made by her, she tried to twist her own words and explained that it had been misread by practically every netizen out there. No matter how ludicrous the performance, being able to face the camera and speak publicly on this matter shows that some settlement could have been reached with Peng Shuai being compensated in lieu of Zhang Gaoli’s silent exoneration.
It seems to me that she’s probably not seeking justice after all. She is obviously not another Wei Jingsheng or Liu Xiaobo who refused to compromise and certainly wouldn’t play along. You can say that her latest performance is a mockery to those who made monetary and opportunity sacrifices and stood by her by boycotting China. Had she stirred the hornet’s nest not to seek justice but to play her sympathisers against the people who wronged her so that she could strike a deal with them? It makes sense that they are still locking her out of social media and she is not withdrawing her scrubbed Weibo statement which had already gone viral at the beginning of the saga. They are holding each others’ necks, negotiating and her sympathisers could have been taken for a ride. So much for Peng Shuai, another product of the system who knows how to play the game unlike so many naive foreigners.
And if you look at some the comments from observant and discerning Chinese netizens, the damage to Lianhe Zaobao’s reputation is probably even more immeasurable. The publication has dug its own grave. We just fell a few more notches on the scale of press freedom/independence. Is it worth it?