The big idea
U.S.-China relations face a new test. Her name is Peng Shuai
American officials face a fresh test of their willingness to criticize and perhaps confront China, at least in the economic and diplomatic spheres as well as the field of professional sports, which often blends the two on the world stage. That test has a name: Peng Shuai.
The White House declined substantive comment Thursday on Peng, a two-time Grand Slam tournament winner in doubles, who has not been seen in public, nor reached by outsiders like the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA), since she accused a former senior Chinese government official of sexually assaulting her. She made the charge on her verified account on Weibo, China’s equivalent to Twitter.
But a growing chorus of athletes — including many of the brightest stars in tennis, like Serena Williams, Naomi Osaka, and Novak Djokovic — and now some voices in Congress are keeping Peng’s case in the headlines, challenging authorities in Beijing.
And that, in turn, is why the question of how that government treats one of its own citizens, and whether the United States should treat her the way it has treated Chinese political dissidents, could land on President Biden’s desk.
Sports can be political
Sports, diplomacy, values and business interests regularly overlap. Consider Biden’s warning on Thursday that he’s “considering” a diplomatic boycott of Beijing’s Winter Games to punish China for alleged genocide against its Uyghur Muslim minority.
Sometimes the message of sports is aimed inward: Look at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, which arguably helped President Vladimir Putin tell his people their country was not only not a pariah, but a global player. They had barely wrapped when he invaded Ukraine.
The Washington Post has not been able to confirm the Weibo post’s authenticity, much less that of Peng’s accusation against former vice premier Zhang Gaoli.
But the WTA has been vocally supportive, almost shockingly so, in an era in which the American private sector, including professional sports leagues like the NBA, has bowed to Beijing’s considerable ability to smother their profits.
Instead, the organization has gone baseline-to-baseline with the Chinese government. On Sunday, WTA chairman and CEO Steve Simon expressed “deep concern” about Peng and said her allegations needed to be treated with “utmost seriousness.”
“We expect this issue to be handled properly, meaning the allegations must be investigated fully, fairly, transparently and without censorship,” Simon said in a statement.
My colleague Des Bieler reported on what followed:
“China Global Television Network, a state-owned news service, then posted Wednesday what it claimed were the contents of an email sent by Peng to Simon. In a typed note shared by CGTN, the author self-identified as Peng and stated the allegation of sexual assault was ‘not true.’ The author added: ‘I’m not missing, nor am I unsafe. I’ve just been resting at home and everything is fine.’”
“In response, the WTA issued a statement in which Simon said, ‘I have a hard time believing that Peng Shuai actually wrote the email we received or believes what is being attributed to her.’”
“‘The WTA and the rest of the world need independent and verifiable proof that she is safe,’ he added. ‘I have repeatedly tried to reach her via numerous forms of communication, to no avail.’”
Sports columnist Jane McManus, who runs the Marist Center for Sports Communication, noted the vast potential business downside for the WTA. While not as popular in China as the NBA, women’s tennis has a consequential presence:
“The WTA has … embraced China when it comes to tournaments and travel in the last two decades. It is a huge market, and in 2011 Li Na won the French Open and the Australian in 2014 to consolidate the sport’s popularity there. The WTA had nine tournaments in China in 2019 including the year-end championships, and has a major media sponsor from that market.”
But Simon went even further in a Thursday interview with CNN.
"We're definitely willing to pull our business and deal with all the complications that come with it," Simon said. "This is bigger than the business."
The WTA’s stance has not gone unnoticed among China hawks in Congress, like Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), who wrote to Simon enthusiastically commending his stance toward the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
“Their coercion and exploitation of people and industries can only succeed as long as people remain silent and pretend to believe their pretexts and excuses,” Cruz wrote. “The unapologetic criticism of the kind you and the WTA are bringing to bear pose a salient — and perhaps the most salient — threat to their power.”
Lots of things aren’t clear as of this writing — Peng’s actual status, for one. It’s also not clear whether the Chinese state TV email really came from her, or under what circumstances she might have written it.
But weeks ago, at the New York Times, Steven Lee Myers ominously chronicled how Peng’s Weibo post “was removed within minutes, but the allegations swirled through the country’s heavily controlled internet, fueled by the fame of the accuser and the accused. That kept the censors inside China’s Great Firewall scrambling.”
“Searches of her name and even the word ‘tennis’ appeared to be blocked, reflecting the extraordinary sensitivity within China of discussing misconduct by party leaders.”
And on Thursday, CNN said China was blocking its signal to smother coverage of Peng. A mere sports story, this is not.
What's happening now
Pelosi finally gets a win as BBB passed the House
After an all-night filibuster, the House has passed the roughly $2 trillion Build Back Better Act
“In bearing the name of the president’s 2020 campaign slogan, the successful 220 to 213 House vote on the Build Back Better Act marks the second legislative milestone for Democrats this month,” Tony Romm reports.
- Folks, it's not over yet: "But the more than $2 trillion proposal, the final component in Biden’s broader economic agenda, still must survive an even tougher political slog in the days ahead. The House vote sends the tax-and-spending package next to the Senate, where moderates including Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) long have harbored skepticism about its price tag and policy scope — and could further seek to pare back its provisions.
- So what’s made the cut so far and what does it mean? Here's Romm's guide to all the ways the House spending bill would affect America.
Biden to undergo colonoscopy, transfer power to Vice President Harris, as part of ‘routine physical’ Friday morning, White House says
“White House officials have said for months that Biden, who turns 79 on Saturday and is the nation’s oldest president, would get an exam and be transparent about the results,” John Wagner reports.
Biden expected to replace Ron Bloom, USPS board chair and key DeJoy ally, on postal board
“The move casts doubt on DeJoy’s future at the agency, according to three people with knowledge of the matter, and potentially gives liberals on the panel two crucial votes to oust the postal chief, who can be removed only by the board of governors. The people spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak freely about private discussions,” Jacob Bogage reports.
FDA authorizes Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna boosters for all adults
“The Food and Drug Administration cleared the boosters for people 18 and older who are at least six months past their second shot of the two-dose vaccines. The move reflects an urgent effort to spur the uptake of boosters to counter waning vaccine protection heading into the winter holiday season when millions of people travel to see friends and family. It’s also an attempt to put in place a coherent federal approach as about a dozen states move ahead on their own to grant broad access to boosters,” Laurie McGinley reports.
Austria imposes full lockdown, Germany may follow as covid grips Europe
“Austria will become the first country in western Europe to reimpose a full COVID-19 lockdown, it said on Friday as neighbouring Germany warned it may follow suit, sending shivers through financial markets worried about the economic fallout,” Reuters’s Francois Murphy and Paul Carrel report.
Lunchtime reads from The Post
Fauci under fire (Part Z)
Fauci swamped by angry calls over beagle experiments after campaign that included misleading image
“Fauci has been a controversial figure during the pandemic, in part because of his public clashes with President Donald Trump over Fauci’s support for masks and opposition to unproven covid cures. But a surge of harassment and threats in recent weeks has forced staff at his agency to spend significant time debunking misinformation and grappling with security concerns, according to three of the NIH officials and four senior administration officials,” Yasmeen Abutaleb and Beth Reinhard report.
- What? “The wave of anger grew out of a campaign by a little-known animal rights group called the White Coat Waste Project, which leveraged existing hostility among conservatives toward Fauci to further its cause, a Post review found.”
- Who? “The group’s founder and president is a seasoned Republican operative, and most board members and some top staffers have worked for Republican members of Congress or GOP-leaning organizations.”
Africa’s rising cities: How Africa will become the center of the world’s urban future
“Growing at unprecedented rates, and shaped by forces both familiar and new, dozens of African cities will join the ranks of humanity’s biggest megalopolises between now and 2100,” Max Bearak, Dylan Moriarty and Júlia Ledur report.
- “Several recent studies project that by the end of this century, Africa will be the only continent experiencing population growth. Thirteen of the world’s 20 biggest urban areas will be in Africa — up from just two today — as will more than a third of the world’s population.”
… and beyond
The Amazon lobbyists who kill U.S. consumer privacy protections
“Amazon.com Inc has amassed a vast amount of sensitive personal information on its customers. Internal documents reveal how a former aide to Joe Biden helped the tech giant build a lobbying juggernaut that has gutted legislation in two dozen states seeking to give consumers more control over their data,” Reuters’s Jeffrey Dastin, Chris Kirkham and Aditya Kalra report.
- “The architect of this under-the-radar campaign to smother privacy protections has been Jay Carney, who previously served as communications director for Joe Biden, when Biden was vice president, and as press secretary for President Barack Obama.”
- “Seven Reuters reporters obtained and examined their own Amazon dossiers. One found that Amazon had more than 90,000 recordings Alexa devices made of the reporter’s family members since 2017.”
Wisconsin Republicans push to take over the state’s elections
“The Republican effort — broader and more forceful than that in any other state where allies of former President Donald J. Trump are trying to overhaul elections — takes direct aim at the bipartisan Wisconsin Elections Commission, an agency Republicans created half a decade ago that has been under attack since the chaotic aftermath of last year’s election, the New York Times's Reid J. Epstein reports.
- “The firestorm picked up late last month after a long-awaited report on the 2020 results that was ordered by Republican state legislators found no evidence of fraud but made dozens of suggestions for the election commission and the G.O.P.-led Legislature, turbocharging Republican demands for more control of elections.”
The Biden agenda
Biden officials to propose road ban on much of Alaska’s Tongass National Forest
“Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack will propose reinstating a Bill Clinton-era rule to ban logging and road building in more than half of North America’s largest temperate rainforest, the department confirmed. The restrictions had managed to stay in place for years because of a series of court battles, but the Trump administration wiped them out last fall,” Juliet Eilperin reports.
Biden: U.S. may not send top dignitaries to Beijing Olympics
“President Joe Biden said Thursday that the United States was weighing a diplomatic boycott of next year’s Winter Olympics in Beijing over China’s human rights abuses, a move that would keep American dignitaries, but not athletes, from the games,” the Associated Press reports.
Workplace strikes, visualized
Some 17,400 U.S. workers went on strike in October, according to a Bloomberg Law work stoppage database. Of the 119 union strikes so far this year, 15 are “major” strikes involving 1,000 or more individuals, according to the database. That compares with nine major strikes in 2020, when the pandemic took hold, and 30 in 2019. Here’s why workplace strikes won’t stop anytime soon.
Hot on the left
David Brooks says Joe Biden is succeeding
“The Biden $1.9 trillion stimulus package passed and has been tremendously successful. It heated the overall economy. The Conference Board projects that real G.D.P. growth will be about 5 percent this quarter. The unemployment rate is falling. Retail sales are surging. About two-thirds of Americans feel their household’s financial situation is good,” the NYT columnist writes.
“But the best part is that the benefits are flowing to those down the educational and income ladder. In just the first month of payments, the expanded Child Tax Credit piece of the stimulus bill kept three million American children out of poverty.”
Hot on the right
GOP governors celebrate Glenn Youngkin under Trump’s watchful eye
“At the Republican Governors Association’s annual conference, Virginia’s governor-elect played a starring role as 20 governors and hundreds of GOP political professionals and donors celebrated his recent victory, pointing to him as a conservative exemplar — the guy who figured out how to win support from Donald Trump’s followers while keeping the polarizing former president at arm’s length,” Politico's Marc Caputo writes.
Today in Washington
Harris will leave for Columbus, Ohio, at 12:50 p.m. and tour the Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 189 with Labor Secretary Marty Walsh at 2:50 p.m.
At 3:15 p.m., Biden will pardon the Thanksgiving turkey.
Harris will speak about the bipartisan infrastructure bill at 3:20.
It's turkey pardon day. More specifically, it's Peanut Butter and Jelly time.
Mariana Alfaro has the scoop on the two lucky birds who are going to meet the president today.
Thanks for reading. See you next week.