Opinion Madonna King: Where is Peng Shuai? A strong response will send a message

Madonna King: Where is Peng Shuai? A strong response will send a message

Madonna King Peng Shuai
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Where is Peng Shuai?

Despite a trending hashtag, and questions from around the globe, the answer – so far – is just not good enough for us to accept.

And our response, as a nation, is a window into how we prioritise both the #MeToo phenomenon and our relationship with China.

Pen Shuai could be any young woman – but happens to be one of China’s most recognisable sports stars; a multiple Olympian and a former tennis doubles world No.1.

Her accusation against China’s former vice-premier, Zhang Gaoli, is unambiguous.

The 75-year-old sexually assaulted her, she claimed on social media.

She couldn’t provide evidence but needed to speak out, she told her followers. “Like an egg hitting rock, or a moth to the flame, courting self-destruction, I’ll tell the truth about you,’’ she said.

In posting that about a senior official of the Chinese Communist Party, Peng Shuai has courageously delivered the #MeToo movement to her country – and any other young person there who has been the target of unwanted sexual attention.

For that, she should be applauded. She should be put on a pedestal. And it goes without saying, it should prompt a full and open inquiry.

Of course that won’t happen. And Peng Shuai has disappeared.

Yes, there has been the odd sighting of her, here and there, but they’ve raised as many questions as answers.

But what about our response? Is this not a golden opportunity for Prime Minister Scott Morrison to show he learnt something from Australia’s own #MeToo sex shame, revealed last year?

Is this not a chance for his government to tell every young person, and particularly women, in Australia that he won’t stand for this; that the alleged sexual assault of a young woman will not be tolerated whether she is in China or in his electorate of Cook in New South Wales?

Wasn’t that the lesson delivered, with so much grace and courage, by Brittany Higgins and Grace Tame and Chanel Contos?

Words matter. And Australia has shown it is willing to take on China over other issues – like defence contracts and Taiwan.

So why not choose a strong response here? So far, we’ve simply looked to the United States for a heads up on what we should do.

We shouldn’t need to play ‘follow the leader’ here. And we shouldn’t wait.

China is important to us; but shouldn’t be that important that we are willing to flip-flop over the alleged accusation of sexual assault by a young athlete, who then went missing.

A diplomatic boycott of the Winter Olympics would be a strong start.

It would show how serious we were.

And yes, politics and sport should, if possible, be kept separate. But so too should a powerful member of the Communist Party and a young female athlete.

A strong response would have an effect in two further important ways.

It would show China that we will not accept a response like that given that human rights abuses are wrong, and will be pointed out without fear or favour.

And we’ll do it off our own bat, not because America thinks it’s a good idea.

But an uncompromising statement from Scott Morrison will also have an impact domestically.

It will show young women – some old enough to vote, and others with years to go – that this issue is a priority, irrespective of where it happens.

It took Chinese censors less than 30 minutes to rip down Peng Shuai’s post. It shouldn’t take us 30 days to respond.