Australian Defense Minister Deflects from Djokovic Scandal with Peng Shuai Rant

Peter Dutton

Australian Defense Minister Peter Dutton issued impassioned remarks in an interview published Monday in defense of Chinese tennis champion Peng Shuai, who the regime disappeared for public life after accused its former Olympics committee head of rape.

Dutton’s remarks surface three months after Peng’s initial disappearance – she has since resurfaced denying the text of her post on social media accusing senior Chinese Communist Party official Zhang Gaoli of forcing her into sex – and in the middle of international outrage of Australia’s own poor treatment of a tennis player: Novak Djokovic, the world’s top men’s tennis player, who spent the weekend in a migrant detention facility because he has not consumed a Chinese coronavirus vaccine product.

A district court ordered Djokovic’s immediate release on Monday. Australian police are now facing further criticism, particularly in Djokovic’s native Serbia, over using force to subdue a rowdy pro-Djokovic protest in Melbourne following the order.

Fans protest in Flinders Lane on January 10, 2022 in Melbourne, Australia. Judge Kelly ordered that Djokovic be immediately released from detention and the decision to cancel his visa was “unreasonable”. (Sam Tabone/Getty Images)

Dutton made the remarks in an interview with two Australian newspapers, the Sydney Morning Herald and the Age, centered on Australia’s national security and the threat that China poses to the region. China and Australia have an increasingly fraught relationship threatened by China’s illegal expansion in the South China Sea and infiltration of Australian politics, academia, and other industries.

China has responded to all Australian concerns about the malign influence of the Communist Party in the region by insulting Australia as a “vassal of the U.S.” and issuing vague threats of Canberra does not adhere to Beijing’s agenda.

In discussing China relations, Dutton decried the poor state of women’s rights in China, citing the Peng situation in particular.

“I don’t understand how, in the year 2021, in the #MeToo age, we can have an international female tennis star who claims to have been raped and sexually assaulted and she’s now effectively under house arrest and has had her social media account wiped,”| Dutton said, “and somehow that’s behavior that we should tolerate.”

China’s Peng Shuai serves to Japan’s Nao Hibino during their first round singles match at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, on Jan. 21, 2020. (AP Photo/Andy Brownbill)

“Well, it’s not – and we’re better off to speak publicly about it because otherwise the behavior won’t change,” Dutton warned.

“We wouldn’t tolerate, and nor would we ever want to tolerate, the suggestion that if somebody had been raped, that it wasn’t going to be addressed,” Dutton continued, according to the Sydney Morning Herald. “And not to mention the plight of tens of thousands of others who find themselves in the same position where they’re either threatened or their human rights are violated or otherwise, the Uyghurs and the rest.”

(COMBO) This combination of file photos shows tennis player Peng Shuai of China (L) during her women's singles first round match at the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on January 16, 2017; and Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli (R) during a visit to Russia at the Saint Petersburg International Investment Forum in Saint Petersburg on June 18, 2015. - Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai said she was safe and well during a video call with the International Olympic Committee chief on November 21, 2021, the organisation said, amid international concern about her well-being after being seen attending a Beijing tennis tournament, marking her first public appearance since she made her accusations against former vice premier Zhang Gaoli. (Photo by Paul CROCK and Alexander ZEMLIANICHENKO / AFP) (Photo by PAUL CROCK,ALEXANDER ZEMLIANICHENKO/AFP via Getty Images)

This combination of file photos shows tennis player Peng Shuai of China (L) during her women’s singles first round match at the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on January 16, 2017; and Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli (R) during a visit to Russia at the Saint Petersburg International Investment Forum in Saint Petersburg on June 18, 2015. (PAUL CROCK, ALEXANDER ZEMLIANICHENKO/AFP via Getty Images)

China is currently engaged in a campaign of genocide against the Uyghur people of East Turkistan, fueled by the use of concentration camps and mass enslavement.

Peng Shuai, a two-time doubles Grand Slam winner, disappeared in November after publishing a post on the Chinese government-controlled social media outlet Weibo accusing Zhang of having forced her into sex, prompting a prolonged affair she claimed was later consensual. Government censors disappeared the post rapidly, but not fast enough for users to screencap and share its contents.

The Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) pulled all its tournaments out of China in response to Peng’s treatment. Peng subsequently surfaced and denied the Weibo post.

At the time, in November, the Australian government issued a statement expressing concern for Peng.

“It is understandable that many people, including in the international sporting community, have raised serious concerns about Ms Peng’s welfare,” an Australian government spokesperson said at the time. “This is a matter that needs to be responded to with transparency and accountability.”

Peng is not currently in Australia and does not appear to be making any preparations for the Australian Open, set to begin next Monday. The Australian Open is one of the four most prestigious tournaments in tennis and the first Grand Slam of the yearly calendar.

The biggest story of the Australian Open so far has been not the Chinese government’s treatment of Peng, but the Australian government’s treatment of Djokovic. The top men’s tennis player entered Australia last week, apparently believing that he had received a medical exemption from the country’s vaccine mandate, but Border Force immediately apprehended him in Melbourne, canceling his visa. The Australian government then forced him into detention at the Park Hotel, a facility for illegal migrants, while Djokovic appealed his case. The incident triggered protests led by the Djokovic family in Belgrade, Serbia, and father Srdjan announced that he and supporters of his son would “fight them in the streets” if they continued to detain Djokovic.

An Australian judge ordered Djokovic’s immediate release on Monday, though the Immigration Ministry has threatened to invalidate his visa. Djokovic said in a social media post on Monday that he hopes to play the Australian Open despite the scandal.

Following the judge’s orders, clashes erupted in Melbourne outside of the offices of Djokovic’s attorneys between police and Djokovic supporters, many of them flying Serbian flags. Police reported used tear gas to subdue the crowd; journalists reported being attacked.

Djokovic spoke out in defense of Peng in November, calling her situation “horrifying.” The player also supported the WTA in withdrawing from China, saying he “fully” supported withdrawing from China and calling it “very bold and very courageous.”

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