Peng Shuai, China’s missing tennis star, reappears in public in Beijing

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Missing tennis star Peng Shuai reappeared in public on Sunday at a youth tournament in Beijing, according to photos released by the organizer, as the ruling Communist Party tried to quell fears abroad by withholding information about Peng in China after she accused a senior leader of sexual assault. … …

The China Open post on social media Weibo did not mention Peng’s disappearance or her accusations. The three-time Olympic champion and former Wimbledon champion was shown standing by the court waving and signing huge commemorative tennis balls for the kids.

The ruling party appears to be trying to allay anxiety about Peng by not acknowledging her disappearance after it accused Zhang Gaoli, a member of the ruling Party Standing Committee until 2018, of forcing her to have sex on November 2.

Peng’s disappearance and official silence in response to calls for information prompted calls for a boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics in February, a prestigious event for the Communist Party. The Women’s Professional Tour threatened to pull the tournament out of China if the safety of the former # 1 doubles player was not ensured.

The discussion on Peng’s charge has been removed from websites in China. A government spokesman on Friday denied knowing about the protest. The ruling party’s internet filters also block most people in China from viewing other foreign social networks and most global news outlets.

Comments on Chinese social media on Sunday criticized the Women’s Tennis Association and others who talked about Peng. Chinese-language comments on Twitter poked fun at Peng’s awkward posting of photos and videos by state media officials this weekend, while the government remained silent.

“When will WTA leave China?” said in a comment on social networking site Sina Weibo, signed “Sleep time.”

Peng adds to the growing number of Chinese businessmen, activists and ordinary people who have disappeared in recent years after criticizing party leaders or in the course of the crackdown on corruption or campaigns for democracy and workers’ rights.

Some show up weeks or months later without explanation, suggesting that they are being warned not to reveal that they have been detained or why.

Peng’s appearance on Sunday was mentioned in the latest sentence of the tournament’s coverage on the website of the ruling party’s English-language newspaper The Global Times, aimed at foreign readers, but not immediately reported by other media in China.

Global Times editor Hu Xijin said on Twitter on Saturday, which is not seen by most Internet users in China, that Peng “lived freely in her own home” and would soon “appear in public.”

The Global Times is known for its nationalist tone. Hu uses his Twitter account to criticize foreign governments and point out social and economic problems abroad.

A Twitter comment signed by bobzhang999 read, “Hu Dog, with so many photos, why don’t you let Peng Shuai talk?”

Another, signed by the Wizard, said, “Let Peng Shuai’s parents hold a press conference.”

The tennis and WTA stars clamored for information about Pan with extraordinary loudness. Other companies and sports groups are reluctant to confront Beijing for fear of losing access to the Chinese market or other retaliation.

The ruling party did not say whether it is investigating Peng’s charges against 75-year-old Gao, who left the Standing Committee in 2018 and has all but disappeared from public life.

Even if Peng’s accusation is deemed well-founded, people in China often go to jail or face other punishments for embarrassing the party by publishing complaints of abuse instead of going through a secret, often unanswered official system.

The status of star athletes like Peng is especially sensitive. State media celebrate their victories as proof that the party is making China strong. But the party is careful to ensure that they cannot use their prominence and public appeal to undermine their image.

Steve Simon, chairman and CEO of the WTA, raised concerns about Peng’s safety after Hu, the newspaper’s editor, posted two videos on Saturday that appeared to be shown to her at a restaurant.

“While it is pleasant to see her, it remains unclear whether she is free and can make decisions and act on her own, without coercion or outside interference. This video alone is not enough, ”Simon said. “Our relationship with China is at a crossroads.”

The International Olympic Committee has been silent about Peng’s status, which has competed in three Olympic Games, helping to contribute multimillion-dollar income to the IOC from broadcast and sponsorship.

The declared policy of the Olympic organization is “quiet diplomacy”. On Saturday, the IOC said it will “continue our open dialogue at all levels with the Chinese Olympic Movement.”

When asked about human rights in China two weeks ago, a senior IOC member, Juan Antonio Samaranch, said that “we are not discussing anything with the Chinese government” about this.

The IOC has previously stated that its partner in organizing the Winter Games is the local organizing committee and not the Chinese state. This committee is controlled by the Communist Party.

Emma Terho, newly elected head of the IOC Athletes’ Commission, which is responsible for representing the interests of Olympic athletes, said in a statement Saturday that “we support the quiet diplomacy approach” endorsed by the IOC.

Last week, the foreign subsidiary of state television issued a statement in English attributed to Peng, which dropped the charges against Zhang. WTA’s Simon questioned its legitimacy, while others said it only increased their concerns about her safety.



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