Cross-strait tennis partners 'forced' to talk politics

'I don't accept the claim that Taiwan is a country,' Peng Shuai said

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 09 July, 2013, 11:11am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 09 July, 2013, 12:38pm

Have the triumphant Peng Shuai and Hsieh Su-wei really forged a tennis partnership that bridges the gap between mainland China and Taiwan, as many have claimed?

The new grand-slam title winners were finally forced to confront the elephant in the room at a press conference after they beat Australian duo Ashleigh Barty and Casey Dellacqua at Wimbledon on Saturday.

And when they did, the divide was apparent.

When a Japanese reporter asked Taiwan’s Hsieh what it means to win a grand slam for “her country” as a “Taiwanese” person, their conversation was interrupted by Peng, reported Chinese media. 

“I am sorry, but I am still sitting here,” she said, raising her hand, “and I don’t accept the claim that Taiwan is a ‘country’.”

“Tennis is only a sport, and we don’t intend to get involved in politics,” she added.

Peng - who is from Xiangtan in Hunan province, the birthplace of Mao Zedong - also said she and Hsieh would not broach the topic in private.

“I’ve liked being called ‘strait combination’ from the very beginning,” Peng said, referring to the popular title the Chinese media coined for the doubles pair.

Peng's comment was met with mixed reaction on China’s blogosphere. While some applauded her for being “patriotic”, others criticised her for embarrassing her partner in front of a room of reporters.

“[If Peng won’t recognise Taiwan as a country],  why would Hsieh accept that Taiwan is a province of China?” one microblogger said.

“Why would Peng make a political speech if she intends to be left out of politics?" wrote Taiwanese blogger "A Q".

Taiwan’s pro-mainland China Times, however, urged the two sides to forgo differences and produce more successful “strait combinations” in business co-operations and even political negotiations. 

The tennis champions’ dilemma may be resolved much sooner. Hsieh is considering giving up her Taiwanese citizenship to represent the mainland, so she can receive a much bigger sponsorship deal, according to Agence France-Presse.

In a telephone interview, Hsieh’s father reportedly said: "It is not that we don't love Taiwan... we have no choice”.